Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Old & the New


“In its final report, a building committee formed by City Council President Howard Baughman last summer has recommended that the new city building be constructed on the former Adelphia Cable property and adjacent parcels.”

Community Common, Dec. 17, 2006

(The following imaginary dialogue took place between the old and new year)

  • Now that I’m about to take over, will you answer some questions for me, Pop?
  • Shoot, Sonny.
  • Why will a new building for city offices be located on the site of the former Adelphia building, on Washington Street?
  • To begin with, to call it the Adelphia building is misleading. The building was owned by Dr. Irving Singer, of Los Angeles, an absentee landlord who rented it to Adelphia Cable.
  • Why is that important?
  • Because it was Dr. Singer who hired Neal Hatcher to try to find another tenant or a buyer for the so-called Adelphia building.
  • And Hatcher was not able to find another tenant or buyer?
  • Obviously not.
  • Why not?
  • Because the building was old and in poor shape. Before Adelphia rented it, the building was the site of a car dealer. A few old timers claim that before the car dealer, a restaurant occupied the building. So the building was old, had no architectural value, had serious leaks, and as we now know, had a very serious mold problem. If there weren’t serious problems, why would Adelphia have moved out?
  • So Hatcher couldn’t find another buyer or renter for the building. Then what?
  • Then Singer did not pay taxes on the property. Those began to pile up, and they would continue to pile up for as long as Singer owned the property.
  • He had a problem?
  • He had the same problem any businessman or landlord has when a property loses its value.
  • They can’t give it away?
  • They can’t give it away because it is no use to any business, which would still have to pay the taxes on it.
  • So what then?
  • Well, in Portsmouth what you do is unload otherwise worthless property off upon the public by selling it to the city, county, or state.
  • But the city, county, and state were not buying?
  • That’s right.
  • But didn’t the city buy the Marting’s building, for almost two million dollars, even though it was much older than Dr. Singer’s building, even though it had been empty for a longer period of time, and even though it had leaks and asbestos and who knows what else?
  • That’s true, but Clayton Johnson turned the Marting Company into the Marting Foundation, and in the name of philanthropy and in the name of the sacred cause of reviving downtown Portsmouth, he was able to unload the Marting building and its many problems off on the city and get almost two million dollars in the bargain.
  • But wasn’t the Marting building as worthless commercially as Dr. Singer’s building, the so-called Adelphia building?
  • Yes it was. But the Marting Foundation wasn’t selling the Marting building as a commercial property. It was selling it as the future home for the Portsmouth city government. No business in its right mind would have bought the Marting building in the condition that it was in and at the location that it occupies, and at anywhere near the price the city of Portsmouth paid for it.
  • No business would buy it but the city of Portsmouth would?
  • The city of Portsmouth would buy the Brooklyn Bridge if Clayton Johnson and Neal Hatcher were doing the selling.
  • Even though we already have a bridge?
  • Even though we already have a bridge. We already have a football stadium, but Johnson and Hatcher are selling the city the land on which the superintendent of schools wants to build a new football stadium.
  • What did Dr. Singer do when he couldn’t sell his property to the city?
  • He did the next best thing. He donated it to the city with the stipulation that the city had to use it for some public purpose.
  • Like a city hall?
  • Or a police station.
  • Why did he stipulate that?
  • Because then he could get a tax write-off from the U.S. government.
  • But only if it was used for some public purpose?
  • Right.
  • Wasn’t that pretty clever of him?
  • It was probably pretty clever of Neal Hatcher and Mike Mearan, who was Singer’s lawyer.
  • So the city took ownership of Singer’s building and his land?
  • Yes, but the city later learned from the Building Committee that the building was in poor condition and that the mold made it unsalvageable.
  • So, then the city had a worthless building that had to be torn down, but it was still obligated to use the site for a public purpose?
  • Right.
  • How did it become the site for a new municipal building? What about Marting’s?
  • The Marting building is almost as useless as Dr. Singer’s building. If the Marting building had been torn down, the new municipal building could have been built there. That site makes more sense than the site up on Washington St.
  • Then why wasn’t the Marting building torn down?
  • It would be expensive to tear that monstrosity down, and more importantly, the Marting Foundation and its tools in the city government were committed to the lie that the Marting building was valuable and worth saving.
  • So they got trapped in the web of lies that they wove about the Marting building?
  • Yes. But the mayor is so dense he may not know they are lies.
  • What would be the best site for a new municipal building?
  • The best site would be where the Municipal Building now sits.
  • Then why not tear the Municipal Building down and build there?
  • Because some developer wants that site.
  • Why?
  • Allegedly to build a new hotel and conference center.
  • Conference Center? Who the hell is going to want to come to a conference in Portsmouth?
  • The real reason is probably that the site would be very valuable if gambling comes to Portsmouth.
  • And is Neal Hatcher the developer who wants that site?
  • That’s the rumor.
  • So whoever the developer is, he doesn’t really want to build a hotel?
  • No businessman with any sense would want to build a hotel in downtown Portsmouth.
  • Why not?
  • Because the Ramada Inn, known as the Queen of the Rust Belt, is located right across from the Municipal Building and has been living on scraps of pork the city and university have been throwing it for years.
  • So a hotel makes no sense unless gambling comes?
  • That’s right.
  • I guess last year was a hell of a year in Portsmouth, Pop?
  • Sonny, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Merry Marting's To All


T’was the night before Christmas and all through the store,
Not a councilman was stirring, not even a Mohr;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that some payoffs soon would be there.
The Johnsons were nestled all snug in their beds;
Visions of Hilton Head danced in their heads.
And Jim in his longjohns and Allison in her cap
Had just settled down for a long council nap,
When out on the street there arose such a clatter,
He sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the display window, he flew like a flash,
Tripping over decorations as if they were trash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a ghostly look to the scene below,
When what to Jim’s sleepy eyes should appear
But thousands of women, from far and from near,
Gals from the past, from the nineteen-forties,
Slim ones, plump ones, tall ones, shorties,
So many gals he knew he had to act quick,
So he opened the doors with his lottery pick.
More rabid than bobbysoxers, inside they came,
And he smiled and laughed and called them by name:
“Hi, Denise, Hi, Doris, Hi, Trixie, you vixens,
You luscious dishes with all the fixin’s!
Come in to Marting’s, the heart of the Mall,
And Shop away! Shop away! Shop away, all!”

Waving their charge cards and eager to buy,
They went straight to menswear for their favorite guy,
And then up the escalator, like doves they flew,
Buying pill hats and furs and lingerie too.
And then in a tinkling, Jim heard on the roof,
The sound of leaks leaking, and then, poof!
They were gone forever, those gals, with a bound,
Gone without a trace, gone without a sound,
Like Christmas stockings without the loot,
Like New Year’s horns without the toot.
Weren’t they real and would they never be back,
For a shopping feast or even a snack?

He’d tried his dangdest to make Marting’s merry,
He’d decorated her with holly and berry,
He’d repeatedly said, “Hell, no!
She shouldn’t have been torn down ages ago!
She’s not like a mummy with bad teeth,
She’s not hiding behind a Christmas wreath,
She’s not an Old Maid, so damp and so smelly,
She’s a gorgeous lady, like Grace Kelly,
She’s old but well-preserved, like Liz Taylor herself,
She won’t be 125 till January 12th.
She’s just rusting – I mean resting. She’not dead.
And I don’t give a frig what the voters said.
So what if I’m only a grocery clerk?
The average voter is a stupid jerk.
We need shoes, we need socks, we need clothes,
And Marting’s is where the smart shopper goes.”

Behind the fa├žade, behind the faux-brick bustle,
There’s a typical Portsmouth two-million dollar hustle.
And I heard Jim exclaim, as he turned out the light,
“Merry Marting’s to all and to all a good night!”


Monday, November 13, 2006




In spite of its reputation for academic excellence, Yale has produced a trio of politicians whose incompetence and poll numbers have reached bathyspheric depths. I am referring to George W. Bush (B.A. 1968), John Kerry (B.A.1966), and Bob Taft (B.A. 1963). Bush has made it to 31% in a Newsweek post-election poll, but he’s not done yet. And Kerry would probably be even lower after his recent gaffe, in which he couldn’t get straight the punch line of a joke about how stupid Bush is. Kerry ended up instead appearing – at least to people of limited intelligence – to insult the intelligence of troops in Iraq. Kerry, who was a D student in his freshman year at Yale, is no one to be making jokes about anyone else’s intelligence. What these three Yale graduates – Bush, Kerry, and Taft – have in common, in addition to their by now legendary incompetence, is that they are what the Yale Office of Admissions calls “legacies.”

There are in any given class at Yale, and other prestigious universities, a percentage of not-too-bright and not-too-talented students who probably would not have been admitted if they had not come from wealthy and influential families with close ties to that institution. Yale could not afford to exclude George W. Bush from the class of 1968, however embarrassing a Yale grad he might promise to be, because as a private university, Yale is heavily dependent on wealthy alumni for financial support. There can’t be boola-boola without moola-moola, and the Bushes, partly because of their business ties to anti-democratic governments, such as those in Nazi Germany and Saudi Arabia, have never been short of moola.

In a perfect academic world, all applicants would be judged on merit; but in the real world money is usually more important than merit, and who you know more important than what you know. Bush’s father George H. W. “Poppy” Bush (B.A. 1948) and his grandfather Prescott Sheldon Bush (B.A. 1917) were Yale graduates of wealth and influence. They were also, to a degree, well-rounded. If they weren’t brilliant, they were smart enough, and they had a degree of social grace. Father and grandfather also had some athletic ability, usually a redeeming feature in even the worst putz in a class. Poppy was possibly a legacy, but maybe he was good enough at first base to have gotten into Yale even if Prescott Bush had not been his father. Maybe.

Prescott Bush and George H. W. Bush had also served in the military in theaters of war, the grandfather in Europe in the First and the father in the Pacific in the Second World War, but anyone familiar with their military service knows there are questions on that score. But the legacy of legacies of the Bush line, George W. “Dubya” Bush, would not serve in any theater of war. He would serve instead in the Texas Air National Guard, in a sweetheart deal designed to keep the draft-aged cut-up from having to fight for his country. He got no closer to Vietnam than Alabama, where he lived it up as an AWOL pilot in a unit that had no airplanes. He was not so much Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back as he was John Belushi in Animal House. Except for his family connections, George W. had nothing going for him. He was smart-alecky, not smart; he was a cheerleader, not an athlete, he was Hung-Over, not Dink Stover.

Skull and Boneheads

There was a grade at Yale known as the “gentleman C.” Dubya’s grades at Yale were frat brat C’s, which are worth even less than Gentleman C’s. Grade inflation began in the 1960s, when not only A’s but also C’s became easier to get. Instead of letting a smile be his umbrella, the heller developed a smirk as a sign of his defiance to everyone whose grades were higher than his, which was just about everybody. That both Bush and Kerry were members of Skull and Bones suggests that a more appropriate name for that secret Yale group might be the Skull and Bonehead Society. And if that death cult has degrees of membership based on the number of skulls and bones a member has created, then Dubya has to be some kind of Grand Dragon.

As Peter Dreier wrote in American Prospect, “Bush, a mediocre student, got into Andover, Yale, Harvard Business School and the Texas National Guard’s pilot-training program because he was rich and well-connected. His subsequent business career – including his early efforts to start an oil company, the financial favoritism that allowed him to buy part of the Texas Rangers baseball team with hardly any of his own money, the political favoritism that allowed him to persuade the city of Arlington, Texas, to subsidize a new stadium – was due in large part to his family and social connections. These connections laid the groundwork for Bush to enter politics and helped catapult him to the presidency.”

To Bush’s credit, he was not completely oblivious to his egregious inadequacies. He was aware, when he wasn’t abusing substances, that the dice had been loaded against him in the genetic crap shoot, especially in the I.Q. department. When Dubya was about to be admitted as a legacy at Yale, “Things Go Better with Coke” was the slogan of the day, and he found that to be the case. He needed something to deal with the shame of being a legacy, with knowing he never would have gotten into Yale, would never have gotten to first base in life, without Poppy.

Yale aided and abetted Bush’s undergraduate career as a legacy, but Harvard was his finishing school. Of Dubya’s performance at the Harvard School of Business, we have the recollection of a Japanese visiting professor who said of him, “He showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that.” Yes, over 30 years ago, Bush was already famous for saying one thing and then denying he had said any such thing, just as he has recently stayed the course right up until the time he denied he had been staying the course. We aren’t talking about character flaws here. How can there be character flaws when there is no character?

Bush’s Brain

According to Bush’s Brain, in Bush’s first try for public office, for a congressional seat in Texas, Bush’s opponent accused him of having been born in New Haven and of having been “educated in the pointy-headed environs of Harvard and Yale.” After a radio debate, Bush was furious at the moderator for having raised the same issue, and when the microphones were off called him an “asshole.” That was the first and last election Bush would lose. Dubya or more accurately Karl Rove was smart enough to realize that any sign of Bush’s elite East Coast education was the kiss of death politically, especially in Texas, so he transformed himself from a Yalie into a tough talking if stuttering and self-consciously strutting cowboy. And it worked like an electoral charm until Tikrit hit the fan. It worked like a charm until the recent midterm Republican debacle, after which a reporter reminded him that Nancy Pelosi had said he was naked (an emperor without clothes), incompetent, and dangerous. Bush responded by saying people say things in campaigns they don’t mean. Hadn’t he vowed just a few days before the election that Rumsfeld was going to remain the Secretary of Defense come hell or high water? And wasn’t Rumsfeld history a day after the election? Wasn’t this the kind of behavior that Bush got away with as a legacy at Yale and Harvard? Wasn’t he the same pathological liar he had been in that Business School class when he would deny saying something he had said 30 seconds earlier? He wasn’t just dumbing down during an election: he was simply living up to Yale’s low expectations of a legacy: he was not making the grade, in spades.

Yale must bear some of the responsibility for the long-range consequences of admitting students who do not meet even the minimum standards of intellect and character that their classmates were required to meet. Granted the cost of running a large university is enormous and that bills must be paid, the admissions people at Yale must recognize that even the most well-heeled legacy might not be worth it, and that someday, drawing on the prestige of the university and its privileged political networks, including its Skull and Bones skullduggery, he might stumble forward to become Commander in Chief and president of the United States. In that case, not just the country but the whole world could end up having to pay the piper. The full price in lives and treasure the world will eventually have to pay for George W. Bush being president, not to mention the years lost in combating terrorism and global warming is, at this time and perhaps for many years to come, beyond calculation. But we can already attribute hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars to his incompetence, close-mindedness, and psychopathic lying. And now we have to wait and see if Poppy’s pals can bail Dubya – and us – out yet again from what is clearly the mother of all his messes. Heaven help us!

If Bush and Kerry appeared to be neck-in-neck the last ten years to see who can screw up more, they are tortoises to Bob Taft’s hare. In one survey, Gov. Taft’s poll numbers sank to 6.5, the lowest ever recorded for any politician. Time Magazine rated him as one of the three worst governors in the country, but the rumor was he was considered the worst of the worst. And how much can we read into the fact that Bob Taft was not tapped for Skull and Bones, in spite of the fact that his father, Senator Robert A. Taft, and his grandfather, President William Howard Taft (B.A. 1878), were members, along with seven other Tafts, including Alphonso Taft (B.A. 1833), who was one of the founders of Skull and Bones? Was Bob Taft that bad, or that good, that he did not qualify?

Duck Run

Whatever the limitations of the current Governor-elect of Ohio may prove to be, being a “legacy” is not one of them. One of nine children, son of a steelworker, a graduate of Bible-oriented Asbury College (B.A. 1963), in Kentucky, Ted Strickland is not a child of privilege. There is no boola-boola in his background and not much moola. He has made a career of helping the underprivileged and the troubled. An ordained minister and a trained psychologist, he has worked at the prison in Lucasville, Ohio, the town where he grew up, in a rural area named Duck Run. He also taught evenings as an adjunct at Shawnee State University, in Portsmouth, Ohio, where many of the students were the first in their Appalachian families to attend college, which was also the case with him. His grandfather and father were in no position to see that doors were opened for him. In fact, there were those who tried to shut doors on him. When he ran for and was elected to Congress, a member of the Republican dominated Board of Trustees reportedly vowed that Strickland would never teach at Shawnee State again. Shawnee State’s loss has been the state of Ohio’s gain. Let’s hope that Strickland as governor leaves a lasting legacy to the Buckeye state.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ohio Halloween Nightmare


Last night, I had an Ohio Halloween nightmare.

I dreamed I lived in Ohio, in Portsmouth, in the First Ward, where Timothy Loper had been elected to the First Ward seat as a reform candidate but then had sold out to the rich white trash who run Portsmouth. I dreamed I filed charges against Loper with the County Board of Elections charging he was not living in the First Ward, as the City Charter required, but was a carpetbagger living in the Fourth Ward. I dreamed Loper had then been removed from office by the County Board of Elections.

I dreamed I was next represented on the city council by lawyer Mike Mearan, who was appointed, not elected, to replace Loper. I dreamed Mearan was involved in prostitution and drugs. I dreamed Mearan’s 24-year-old stenographer was arrested for transporting Oxycontin from Columbus to Portsmouth in an automobile rented to Mearan.

I dreamed Portsmouth’s previous mayor, a failed businessman named Greg Bauer, had conspired with the rich white trash to pay the Marting Foundation $2 million dollars for an empty, virtually worthless former department store. I dreamed Mayor Bauer, because of the Marting scam, was recalled from office by a large margin, as were two other council members.

I dreamed the Marting sale to the city was ruled invalid by the courts after a suit was brought by a crusading couple, Teresa and Bob Mollette.

I dreamed the current mayor of Portsmouth was James Kalb, who had never risen above the level of grocery clerk at the local Kroger’s Supermarket but had made a career for himself in city politics by being the tool of the rich white trash. I dreamed Kalb conspired with other members of the city council to get the rich white trash off the hook by absolving them of any blame in the Marting scam and taking the Marting building off their hands, with them keeping the $2 million, and the city resuming its plans to convert the Marting building into a city hall. I dreamed that an employee of Kroger’s told me Kalb had never amounted to much at Kroger’s because he was lazy and not too bright, and that he was now using his union rights to to keep his Kroger job open in case he wanted to return to it someday, thus keeping someone younger who needed a job from filling it.

I dreamed I was a member of the Concerned Citizens Group, which managed to get the city’s plan to convert the Marting building on the ballot as a referendum, where the voters rejected the city plan by a wide margin.

I dreamed Portsmouth police chief Horner had denounced citizens who conducted recall campaigns of local officials as “domestic terrorists.” I dreamed the police chief refused to account for how he used a private discretionary police fund, consisting of money obtained in drug busts. I dreamed the police chief’s son was dealing drugs at Damon’s Restaurant, directly across the street from the Portsmouth police station. I dreamed the chief’s son was arrested and convicted but that his arrest and conviction were expunged from public records.

I dreamed the Ohio Secretary of State was Ken Blackwell whose own wife does not campaign with or for him. I dreamed he was accused of using his position as head of Ohio elections to help elect George Bush in 2004. I dreamed Blackwell was described in a poem by Cincinnati’s African-American poet Nikki Giovanni as “a political whore.”

I dreamed that one of Ohio’s senators in Washington was Mike DeWine, who had a promiscuously sexual staff assistant who used to tell people, according to the Washington Post, that her job in DeWine’s office consisted of throwing out “ the stacks of letters from earnest voters who believe members of Congress actually care what they think.” I dreamed this promiscuous staffer, shown here exposing her breast in front of the Capitol, was screwing everyone in Washington and that DeWine was screwing everyone in Ohio.

I dreamed my representative in congress was Jean Schmidt, who had denounced Congressman Murtha on the House floor as a cut-and-run coward, even though Murtha was a decorated war hero. I dreamed Schmidt had been voted one of the ten dumbest members of the House, and that in her latest campaign brainstorm she had raised the possibility of making part of her district a nuclear waste site.

I dreamed the governor in Columbus was Bob Taft. I dreamed I read on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, that Taft “is known beyond the state’s boundaries for the recent corruption scandals under his administration, particularly Coingate.” I dreamed that Time Magazine judged him to be one of the three worst governors in America, opining that “The only thing more stunning than the spectacle of a quivering, hangdog Ohio Governor pleading no contest in August to criminal charges is the fact that he is still in office.” I dreamed that Ohio’s slogan, “The Heart of It All,” meant the heart of all the corruption and election tampering.

I dreamed the president in the oval office was George W. Bush, who is considered by some historians to be the stupidest and most incompetent chief executive in the history of the United States, and as the president who has presided over the most corrupt administration in the history of the United States. As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.

I dreamed this and much more, and when I awoke I realized, “Oh, my God, the nightmare is true. I live in the First Ward of Portsmouth, in Ohio, in the United States of America, and Mearan is the First Ward councilman, Horner is the chief of police, Kalb is the mayor, Blackwell is the secretary of state, Schmidt is the congresswoman, DeWine is the senator, Taft is the governor, and Bush is the president.

Shit! This is not a Halloween nightmare. This is an everyday reality!

Bush no exit

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bridge to the Past

Grant Bridge

Portsmouth has a beautiful expensive new bridge, but the celebrating is over, and now it’s time to come to terms with reality and face the costs of that project, and not just in terms of dollars. On October 15th, the Community Common published a pathetic Sunday supplement called “Bridging the Past to the Future.” Contrary to the claim of the Common’s headline, the U.S. Grant Bridge is not a link to Portsmouth’s future, only to its past. The Grant Bridge is a 38 million dollar pork project, which cost millions more than it was projected to cost and experienced so many delays that it ended up taking longer to construct than the Golden Gate Bridge. The C.J. Mahan Company – which has been in trouble with the EPA, with its sub-contractors, with its endangered workers, and with the widow of one of its original partners – should not do any bragging about the Grant Bridge, for the sad irony is Mahan appears to be better at making excuses than building bridges.

Death of a Salesman

I heard somebody recently express disappointment that the bridge did not have a walkway for pedestrians, but there are advantages to excluding pedestrians. No homeless soul or depressed drug-addicted prostitute or destitute gambler (should the casinos come) are going to be able to walk out on the bridge and jump off, adding to Portsmouth’s “image problem.” People have been persistently jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge from the time it was built, but San Francisco is large enough and has enough going for it that millions of tourists have left their hearts there without thinking about Golden Gate suicides. But picture some clinically depressed traveling salesman calling up for reservations at Portsmouth’s downtown Ramada Inn, dubbed by one critical traveler the “Queen of the Rust Belt,” and asking, “Are you within jumping – I mean walking– distance of the Grant Bridge?” It would be bad for business, and there is little enough of that as it is. Instead of claiming to be “The Gateway to Southern Hospitality,” Portsmouth,with a walkway on the bridge, might have become known as “The Jumping off Spot for World Weary Travelers.”

Speaking of death, those who work with and for Mahan run financial and personal risks, including death itself. The bridge Mahan built across the Big Sandy River, the Perry and Gentry Memorial Bridge, is named after two workers who lost their lives building it. The barge that sank and the crane that went with it on the Grant project slowed things down, but fortunately no lives were lost. While the Grant Bridge was falling further and further behind schedule, partly as a result of serious design faults, Mahan was being sued by the wife of his original partner, who died unexpectedly. The widow claimed Mahan had cheated her out of her fair share of the company while awarding himself a super-sized salary and expense account. Court records show his annual salary in the mid-90s was $580,000 and his draw account alone was $355,000. In reviewing the judgment on the widow’s case, the courts decided that “there is competent, credible evidence to support the jury’s finding that Mahan received excessive compensation for the years 1996 and 1997.” If that’s what he was paying himself ten years ago, what must he be taking home now? The $900,000 in bonuses he has allegedly been awarded by Ohio Department of Transportation to get him to finally finish the Grant Bridge have understandably outraged taxpayers. Since when are huge bonuses awarded for being two years behind schedule? Instead of giving bonuses, the ODOT could have done what others who have grievances against him have done: sue him.

Considering what Ohio taxpayers will get for their money, the Grant Bridge is pork not just because of Mahan’s poor performance but because the 38 million dollars of public dollars that have been expended on it could have been better spent. If it is not as questionable as Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” the Grant Bridge is a luxury, not a necessity. What justification was there in the first place for building the new Grant Bridge when the Carl D. Perkins bridge is about a mile down the road and has served as Portsmouth’s link to Kentucky in the five years that the Grant Bridge has been under construction? Trucks have used the Perkins Bridge since it was built in 1980 to avoid downtown Portsmouth, and during the five years (2001-2006) Portsmouth was without the Grant Bridge, motorists driving on Route 23 could use the Perkins bridge as a detour. For those motorists who had no reason to stop in Portsmouth, using the Perkins Bridge was no inconvenience. They drove a few more miles than if they had driven through Portsmouth, but they lost little time since they did not have to deal with all those traffic lights on Chillicothe Street. (Chillicothe St. is that quarter mile stretch of Rte. 23 that runs through downtown Portsmouth and has seven traffic lights.)

Map showing one mile distance between Perkins and Grant Bridges.

If the 38 million was not spent to save motorists a couple of minutes and a couple of miles driving on Rte. 23, then who or what was it spent for? The answer is the 38 million was spent to help revive Portsmouth’s depressed downtown district. That’s in addition to the millions that had already been spent for that purpose. The unfortunate truth is downtown Portsmouth died about a quarter of a century ago, and misguided politicians and Portsmouth con artists posing as community leaders have been claiming to have a plan to revive it ever since. The advocates of downtown Portsmouth are like those operators who were still milking the Missing in Action movement twenty years after the Vietnam War. The Marting scam would not have been possible without the Save the Downtown mentality, as if the downtown and the downtown alone was the key to the city’s salvation. When the industrial base of the Portsmouth area began disappearing a half century ago, many of the retail and commercial businesses in downtown Portsmouth that served and prospered from that industrial base, began to close shop. Even before the old Grant Bridge closed in 2001, downtown Portsmouth was in bad shape. Yes, the closing of the old Grant Bridge made a bad situation worse, but the spending of 38 million dollars to return to 2001 hardly seems a wise investment. “I would like to see all the buildings up and down Chillicothe Street occupied like they used to be when I came to Portsmouth in 1947,” an elderly Portsmouth resident told the Portsmouth Daily Times on the Bridge Day celebration. It ain’t going to happen, lady.

Insulting Consulting

According to the Oct. 18 Daily Times, we have yet another publicly funded study being done on how best to revive downtown Portsmouth. “Oh, my god!” a longtime resident of Portsmouth exclaimed on hearing about the study. “Not another one!” Having established that it is incapable of coming up with any solutions to the downtown Portsmouth problem on its own, the city government regularly insults the intelligence of the taxpayers by bringing in these so-called experts to do a study. The latest study is being conducted by a Cincinnati consulting firm, Edwards and Kelcey, whose fee is being paid in part by the city government, which is providing $23,000. More pork! If all the money spent on all the studies of downtown done in the last half century were put in a pot, the city would have enough to put a new roof on the leaking Municipal Building and have enough left over to provide Mayor Kalb with the luxury SUV he feels a man in his position should have. How can we take seriously any out-of-town consulting firm that knows so little about Portsmouth as to hold its initial public meeting in what is known unaffectionately locally as the UnWelcome Center. The UnWelcome Center is just another Portsmouth pork project that houses the offices of the Chamber of Commerce and the SOGP, Portsmouth's axis of evil, which has a stranglehold on the city. Not that the consulting firm had much choice. Folks at the the SOGP are probably behind this “study,” just as they were behind the Marting scam. And how can we take seriously a consulting firm that comes up with a gimmick of audience participation.

Those who attended the charade at the UnWelcome Center were encouraged to play the equivalent of pin-the-tail-on-the donkey, which would be more appropriate in a grade school than at a meeting of adults. The Edwards and Kelcey people put up a list of possible solutions to downtown Portsmouth on the wall, and those in the audience were invited to put red stickers on solutions they liked best. This is democracy at work, you see. But absent from the list of solutions was the most important one of all: Get Rid of the Goddamn SOGP! We ended up paying 38 million bucks for a bridge to revive downtown Portsmouth, and now we have to pay thousands of more public dollars to yet another consulting firm for yet another study on how to revive downtown Portsmouth. Why do we have so much faith in outside consultants anway? Do we assume they’re smarter than us because they don’t live and work in Portsmouth? What is an outside consultant after all if not somebody you pay to pick your pocket to tell you how much money you don't have?

Downtown Portsmouth is the Terri Schiavo of South Central Ohio. It has been on life-support for so long that not even Senator Frist would deny that it is in a persistent vegetative state. And when you consider the level of intelligence of the politicians in the Municipal Building, you could also say downtown Portsmouth is brain-dead. Any community planners with sense would see that any attempt to revive downtown Portsmouth as a retail and commercial center, as it was in the 1940s, is suffering from pernicious nostalgia. All the pork projects in the world, including a 38 million dollar bridge, or an 8 million scam project like the Marting building, is not going to bring back downtown Portsmouth. Not bring it back to anywhere near what it was anyway. A few years ago, Adelphia Cable (since absorbed by Time-Warner) moved its offices from downtown to the uptown Viaduct area, which is where Verizon later moved its downtown offices. And the Fifth/Third Bank is reportedly going to move out of its present downtown offices on Chillicothe St. If the few remaining corporate businesses are moving out of downtown, what do you think of our chances of getting others to move in? The overseers of these businesses are not brain dead. They know that downtown Portsmouth is a graveyard and buildings left behind, like the Marting building, are tombstones testifying to that fact. They know that building a 38 million dollar bridge to a graveyard doesn’t raise the dead. They know that downtowns are no longer the place to do business, at least not business as we know it. They know you don't make fire by rubbing two wet noodles together.

Not just downtown but all of Portsmouth is going to have to reinvent itself. Massive changes in industries, cities, and roads and transportation have taken place in the last half century. Portsmouth, along with the rest of America, is drastically different from what it was back then. American know-how was been replaced by American no-how, American enterprise by American porkbarreling. Those antique cars that were part of the Bridge Day parade could be accommodated in the old downtown Portsmouth. But vehicles are bigger and there are millions more of them. Half of downtown Portsmouth would have to be razed to accommodate the cars that a large shopping might attract, and I emphasize might. A shopping mall has been Portsmouth’s pipedream for a quarter of a century.

Gambling on the Future

What a few wheeling and dealing developers, lawyers and politicians are counting on is casino gambling coming to Ohio and Portsmouth. As long as we are fed and continue to swallow the line that downtown Portsmouth can be revived like it was in the 1940s, that we can go forward to the past, the more likely is it that gambling is in our future. That’s the future they’re counting on. If you build casinos, they will come. Millions of dollars would be pumped into the local economy. But at what cost? The human hazardous waste gambling generates gets buried in the local community in the form of increased crime, corruption, drug abuse, divorce, and suicide rates. Already one of the most corrupt and crime-ridden cities in Ohio, Portsmouth would become Sodom-on-the-Ohio, utterly degraded by gambling dollars, which there will not be as many of as promoters promise but enough to create more serious social problems. Considering what a problem drugs and prostitution now are in Portsmouth, what will they be like with gambling money flowing like crack through the veins of the local economy? Gambling addicts, whose numbers are estimated by pro-gambling sources at 1% and by gambling opponents at 5%, will be a problem far beyond the 1 to 5%, because families, relatives, and employers are affected. It is called the ripple effect.

I grew up in Revere, Massachusetts, when it was known as “The Gambling Capital of New England,” so I am not basing what I say on some outside consultant’s study of the effects of gambling on Portsmouth, although we are going to get those studies, rest assured, studies probably paid for by gambling interests, studies that will say yes, there may be problems, but the overall effects of gambling are positive. The toxic effects of gambling are not limited to the casinos and the gamblers. Gambling is like mercury poisoning and PCB’s. Gambling contaminates whole communities – the political, social, and spiritual environment. The American dream of succeeding through hard work and honesty is replaced by the dream of instantly striking it rich. Life becomes a lottery. People dream about lucky numbers or combinations to play. If gambling comes, our current mayor will no longer have to drive across the river to gamble in the economy model city car he’s ashamed of. He can do his gambling in Portsmouth.

The indirect influence of gambling has been observable in Portsmouth for the last fifteen years. The deliberate neglect of the Municipal Building and the calls to tear it down are indirectly related to gambling. A developer has wanted that land for gambling-related purposes for a number of years. The longer we fall for the “forward to the past” line, the more likely we are going to wind up tearing down the Municipal Building and replacing it with a casino. Then adults will really be playing games, and it won’t be the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey variety.

Bridge to the Future

One thing that we might do is try to change Portsmouth politically, and see if political changes might help the economy. Lee Scott believes getting rid of the city charter might work wonders. I think what needs improving is the quality of the people who gravitate toward city government. It is too much to expect that the best and the brightest would want to get involved in city government, but do we have to settle for the worst and the dumbest, who become pawns in the hands of the richest and the slickest? Shawnee State University could be one institution to help raise the intellectual and ethical level of local government. Employees at the university and the students and faculty in particular have to care about and get involved more with Portsmouth politically.

Little did the richest and slickest realize when they lobbied for a university what the consequences would be, because along with those millions of pork dollars that were pumped into the community came also students and faculty, who are not as easy to bamboozle as the general public. The Shawnee Sentinel was the creation of Shawnee State students, and since the paper first appeared back in the mid-1990s, news reporting in Portsmouth has not been the same. The appalling level of incompetence and dishonesty in local politics has been the main focus of the Shawnee Sentinel, but that newspaper arose in spite of harassment from the administration and from university lawyer, Stephen P. Donohue in particular.

The sick condition of Portsmouth’s economy and the corruption in government is a scandal that the university, a public institution, is ethically obligated to do something about. It should not be left to outside consultants who have no roots or stake in the city. In Athens, faculty members from Ohio University have actually served on the city council. Imagine having somebody connected with the university be mayor of Portsmouth instead of having men who never amounted to anything, like the present and former mayor? There should be some interdisciplinary program or institute established at SSU that directly relates to the political and economic affairs of Portsmouth. But the university is not likely to make much of a difference in the quality of life in Portsmouth without major changes first taking place there, which is unlikely since it is now controlled, like most things in town, by the SOGP, acting through the Board of Trustees. As long as trustees like George L. Davis III, George Clayton and the current trustee chair Kay Reynolds are in control of the university, and as long as Stephen P. Donohue is the Vice President of Everything and de facto SSU president, no constructive changes are likely to take place at SSU. However, with a former dedicated instructor at SSU in the governor’s office, perhaps something can be done about SSU, if only through the trustees he will have the opportunity to appoint.

SSU developed a terrible reputation over the last twenty years, when it was treated locally as another publicly funded pork project, another public feeding trough. The number of land scams and housing shenanigans that took place as the university expanded should be the study of a dissertation someday. We saw what happened to the one president of SSU, James P. Chapman, who was not a tool of the SOGP and who began to make a difference. People with a little more education, vision, and ethics, who are not lapdogs for local multimillionaires, could help build our bridge to the future. And is it too much to hope that that education bridge will not continue to be a pork project, costing hundreds of millions of dollars without taking the city anywhere? Is it too much to hope that someday somebody who is not the equivalent of C.J. Mahan will be in charge of building our bridge to the future, and that somebody other than a consulting firm of Edwards and Kelcey’s ilk will be offering us advice on how to proceed instead of inviting us to pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, as if we were all, like those politicians in the Municipal Building, jackasses?

Dramatic political changes may take place after November 7 at both the state and national levels. Kevin Tillman, brother of former pro football player Pat Tillman, has published an extraordinary indictment of American politicians and policies, titled “After Pat’s Birthday.” “Somehow,” Kevin Tillman wrote, “the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.” But is it too much to hope that on November 7 some important political changes might begin to take place not only at the national and state but at the local level as well? The same old virtueless, vacuous, malicious crooks are still in control of Portsmouth, but could their days be numbered?

Friday, October 06, 2006

From Alger to Foley


To compare Mark Foley with Horatio Alger, Jr. is to be reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

If very few people any longer know who Horatio Alger (1832-1899) was, almost everyone now knows who Mark Foley is. Son of an ex-Marine, a Catholic with Boy Scout connections, the Republican congressman from Florida resigned recently after it was revealed he had sent lewd emails to congressional pages. He reportedly engaged in mutual masturbation online with a page while waiting to vote on an authorization funding bill for Operation Iraqi Freedom. His case illustrates not only how sleazy politicians can be but also how hypocritical, because he was the point man in the Republican family values oriented campaign to stop perverts from preying on children on the internet. And he almost got away with it. The parents of the first boy whose case had come to light wanted the matter dropped to save the boy from embarrassment.

After Foley was exposed as a sexual predator, some wag ridiculed the Republican campaign he spearheaded with the slogan “No child’s behind left behind.” But in most of the news reports and in all the public emails that I have read no distinction is made between pedophiles and pederasts. You would think a nation alarmed about sexual abuse and determined to stop it would know a little more about the subject.

Foley has often incorrectly been called a pedophile, but he is a pederast or an adult male who is sexually attracted to adolescent males. An adolescent is someone who has reached puberty, someone who has acquired secondary sexual characteristics and is capable of sexual reproduction. A child is someone who has not acquired secondary sexual characteristics and has not reached puberty and adolescence. Adult males who are sexually attracted to children are pedophiles. Foley is a pederast, not a pedophile. The sixteen-year-old pages he pursued on-line were adolescents, not yet men but no longer children. Some states recognize sixteen-year-olds as having reached the age of consent, so sexual relations with them, however reprehensible, is not always illegal. Making contact with them and soliciting sex from them on the internet could be, however, and that may be what Foley gets nailed on. Ironically, Foley was the politician who made a name for himself in Republican politics by proclaiming that the law should show no mercy to such predators.

The failure to understand the difference between pedophilia and pederasty is a failure to understand why some men are a menace when they around children and others, like Foley, are a menace when they are around adolescents. Foley loved being around adolescent males, and a corps of sixteen-year-old male pages apparently sent him over the edge. Nobody in the last ten years paid more attention to congressional male pages than Foley and nobody showered them with more praise. As each class of pages graduated, he was heartbroken. Footage of him getting choked up at a graduation exercise is part of the stock footage being shown over and over on television. But his love of pages was anything but fatherly or platonic. His tears were not necessarily a crock, but he gives a whole new meaning to wanting to take the measure of boys before they are men.

Horatio Alger, Jr. was the son of a preacher. He was born in 1832 in what was then known as Chelsea but is now known as Revere, Massachusetts. This is the city I grew up in and am now writing a history of. Alger, Jr. went to Harvard, as his father had done. (The likeness I have included here is his Harvard graduation photo.) Again, like his father, Alger became a Unitarian minister. The first pulpit he occupied was in the town of Brewster, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. A young bachelor, Alger, Jr. spent lots of time with the boys of his parish. It was not quality time, though, for before long very disturbing rumors circulated about his relationships with a few of the boys. It was whispered that the new young pastor had committed unspeakable sexual acts with them. Called before an ad hoc church committee, which questioned him about these rumors, the tight-lipped Alger neither admitted nor denied the rumors were true. He confessed only to having been “imprudent.” Not long afterwards, he slipped out of town. The church complained bitterly to the Unitarian headquarters, in Boston. A deal was struck whereby Alger would not be exposed or prosecuted if he promised never again to serve as a minister. So, to protect the abused boys from further trauma, which prosecuting Alger would have entailed, the whole sordid business was hushed up.

Unofficially defrocked, Alger moved to Manhattan and began a career writing uplifting dime novels about boys who work themselves up from poverty to success, novels with names like Strive and Succeed and Sink or Swim. Alger became one of the most popular authors in the U.S., and his name became synonymous with the rags-to-riches version of the American dream. His name became synonymous with capitalism, which is preumably why Michael Moore has a chapter in Where’s My County Dude? called “Horatio Alger Must Die.” In Ragged Dick, the novel that brought Alger recognition, he editorialized, “Now, in the boot-blacking business, as in the higher avocations, the same rule prevails, that energy and industry are rewarded, and indolence suffers.” Since Alger’s pederasty had been kept secret, when he began befriending newsboys and bootblacks of Manhattan, nobody suspected anything. He was viewed as a saintly faith-based benefactor of homeless and orphaned boys. Because of the self-help message his novels presented, he became after his death, in 1899, kind of saintly icon of laissez-faire capitalism. After the Second World War, the Horatio Alger Association was founded in New York City, to promote the conservative Republican values Alger’s young heroes were believed to have exemplified. Alger Awards, or “Horatios,” were given annually to Americans who had overcome adversity to achieve success through perseverance and hard work.

In 1971, Richard Huber published a book, The American Idea of Success, in which he revealed publicly for the first time the charges against Alger in Brewster. After Huber outed Alger, a right-wing Republican columnist Medford Evans, writing in the John Birch magazine Public Opinion, denounced the revelation as a liberal slander, as “totally unproven allegations against a man of blameless life.” The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, as it now calls itself, ignored Huber’s embarrassing revelation, and as far as I know has never acknowledged that Alger was a pederast. Many famous Americans, most of them Republicans, have been recipients of Alger Awards. Before he became an infamous figure in the Enron scandal, Ken Lay won an Alger Award in 1998. The Alger Association even had the chutzpah to establish an award for those who achieved success in spite of having been sexually molested in their youth! If I recall correctly, Oprah was the recipient of this award.

Another group, the Horatio Alger Society, was formed in the Midwest in 1961. I wrote an article in Bootblack Magazine (July-Aug 1989) about this group, which was founded by a religious mailman from Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Horatio Alger Society had many of the characteristics of a religious cult, of which Alger was the prophet. The mailman knew of Alger’s molestation of boys, but he was in denial and kept that knowledge from members of the society, some of whom idolized Alger, but others of whom, aware of the pederastic elements in Alger’s novels, collected them and figurines of bootblacks and newsboys as erotic art objects. I also published, again in Bootblack (Nov-Dec. 1991), copies of which are in the Shawnee State library, an article “Horatio Alger: the Art of Pederasty,” showing how Alger’s sexual interest in boys found expression in novels like Cast Upon the Breakers, especially in the relations among boys and between boys and older males, and indirectly through symbols and symbolic action. The pederastic pleasure Foley found explicitly in emailing Congressional pages Alger perhaps got more prudently in writing some hundred so-called “wholesome” novels about boys.

Liberal Democrats can be pederasts. There was the creepy Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds, who was involved sexually with a 17-year-old page. But the tradition of conservative Republican sexual predation runs deep, if silently, and in terms of hypocrisy and cynicism, has no parallel. Gerry Studds did not wrap himself in Family Values. From Horatio Alger to Mark Foley, the Republicans have been the hypocritical party of Grand Old Perverts. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I recommend the following article, “Republican Hypocrisy Revealed,” in the following blog:

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Portsmouth and Chillicothe: Twin Cities?

     Portsmouth and Chillicothe have a number of similarities. Both are medium-sized cities with about the same populations (in 2000, Portsmouth had 20,909, Chillicothe 21,796 residents). Both cities are county seats, Portsmouth of Scioto County and Chillicothe of Ross County. Both cities are located in a so-called rust belt state and both have seen better days. A manufacturing city and railroad hub, Portsmouth boasted of having the biggest shoe factories and largest railroad yards in the country. Portsmouth also touted a population of some 60,000, and at about that same time, seventy-five years ago, it had an NFL team, the Portsmouth Spartans. The center of an agricultural region, Chillicothe has a rich political heritage, and was twice the capital of Ohio, and before that the capital of the eastern part of the Northwest Territories. Both Portsmouth and Chillicothe have Mexican sister cities. Both have a mayor-council form of government, and both have tried and abandoned the city manager form of government. Both cities are trying to figure out how best to deal with the problems of the twenty-first century.
     One of the problems both cities are trying to deal with is what to do with the older buildings that house their city governments. The decision both city governments have to make is whether to renovate their present city building, convert another building, or build a new building from scratch. Because this issue is so timely and so important, I will devote a whole article to it in my next posting.
     If these are some of the similarities between Portsmouth and Chillicothe, what are some of the differences? To start with, in 2000, the median income for households in Portsmouth was $23,004, and the median income for households in Chillicothe $33,991. The household income in Portsmouth is more than a third less than it is in Chillicothe. That is a whopping discrepancy. As of July 2006, Scioto County, with a 7.3 percent unemployment rate, ranked 6th highest among Ohio’s 88 counties, and Ross County, with a 5.9 rate, ranked 30th. Ohio’s unemployment rate in July 2006 was 5.8 percent, so Ross County was about at the state average, while Scioto was about 1.5 above average. Studies have shown how crime, spousal abuse, divorce, and suicide rates rise alarmingly with each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, which may explain why the social fabric in Portsmouth has become so frayed in the last half century as the economy of the river city has steadily gotten worse. Yes, Portsmouth once had a professional football team, but the Spartans have long since migrated to Detroit, where they were renamed the Lions. Portsmouth’s entry into a bush league, the Portsmouth Explorers, folded after a couple of seasons while the Chillicothe Paints are still going strong.
Call it architectural consciousness, call it respect for tradition, call it whatever you want. Chillicothe has it, Portsmouth doesn’t. Chillicothe has saved its old city hall, built in 1874 and restored in 1957; the county courthouse (see inset) in historic downtown Chillicothe is currently conscientiously being restored. Downtown Chillicothe is an architectural treasure. Many of the most historic and beautiful buildings in Portsmouth have been torn down, while millions of dollars of public money has been poured into saving worthless ugly old department stores and former car dealerships (the Adelphia building) simply because they are owned by people with pull who have come to expect the government to bail them out. Every day I drive by the new county jail, smack in the middle of Portsmouth, with glistening razor barb wire, and I think of the magnificent railroad terminal that had been torn down to make way for the jail. As if there wasn’t empty land in the county for a new jail. If only Clayton Johnson or Neal Hatcher had had some financial interest in the terminal, then it probably would have been saved.
Comparing Crime in Portsmouth and Chillicothe
     Even more than family income and unemployment statistics, even more than minor league baseball, even more than architecture, the contrasting crime rates in the two cities show that though they are only an hour’s drive from each other, Portsmouth and Chillicothe are otherwise worlds apart. The following chart shows how they compare with each other and with the nation in terms of crime:
     Not surprisingly, given Portsmouth’s high crime rate, political corruption has been a problem for at least the last half century. A sentence in the online Wikipedia Encyclopedia says, “Portsmouth has not been immune to political corruption.” What an understatement. Not only has Portsmouth not been immune to political corruption, it has been plagued by it. Mainly through an agency called the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership (SOGP), a small clique controls Portsmouth. Though they have never held public office, two individuals in the clique, working as a team, the lawyer Clayton Johnson and the realtor-developer Neal Hatcher, dominate the politics of Portsmouth. They are a bipartisan team. Johnson is a Republican and Hatcher works both sides of the political street.
Tripping Out
    Several months ago, on a beautiful summer day, Thursday July 6th to be exact, three senior citizens from Portsmouth drove up to Chillicothe, which is about an hour to the north. Route 23, the highway they drove up on, is the road that the Columbus Dispatch called the drug pipeline between the state capital and Portsmouth, the road on which not too long ago the young “stenographer” of Portsmouth City Councilman Mike Mearan was busted for possessing drugs while driving in a car rented by Mearan. Portsmouth is a city plagued by drugs, prostitution, unemployment, and political corruption, and so is a good place to get away from, if only for a day. The three seniors were Austin Leedom, who had worked as a deputy sheriff in Chillicothe some years ago; Richard Noel, who had been to Chillicothe a number of times for various reasons, including on business for the State of Ohio; and yours truly, a retired college professor who had been to Chillicothe at most a half dozen times in fifteen years but only to shop in the mall or on the outskirts of the city. 
     We were going to Chillicothe because all three of us are active in the political reform movement in Portsmouth and are members of the Concerned Citizens Group. We wanted to get a first-hand view of Chillicothe, what condition it was in and how its government operated. Before I visited Chillicothe, I had no impressions or preconceived notions about it. I knew little about Chillicothe’s past, except that it had been the state capital in the old days. I knew even less about its present condition. It was just the city with the curious name that I had driven by many times on my way to and from Columbus.
     We hadn’t arranged any meetings in Chillicothe. We wanted to see how three strangers seeking information would be dealt with. We wanted to see what the spontaneous answers of people in the city government would be to our questions. But we began with the Chamber of Commerce. Because of my experiences with the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, which I now think of as the equivalent of a Mafia “social club,” I would not have made Chillicothe’s chamber of commerce our first stop, but Austin Leedom led us straight to the Ross County-Chillicothe Visitors Center, which shares space with the Chamber of Commerce on East Main St. We got direct answers to a number of questions. There was none of the narrow-eyed suspicion I was familiar with at the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.
     From the Chamber of Commerce, we went to the Chillicothe Administration Building, on Paint St. The building looked very inadequate for a city its size. It doesn’t look like a city hall. It looks makeshift and temporary. When you enter, it seems cramped. But in contrast to the Portsmouth Municipal Building, everybody we talked to seemed alert and helpful. We were not in the Administration Building a few minutes before we all three had the sense we were not only in another city – we were on another planet. We couldn’t believe it. Were we dreaming? All three of us were used to the gloomy atmosphere and paranoia of those in Portsmouth’s Municipal Building, where because of a tradition of political corruption and a bad press, a bunker mentality seems to prevail. By contrast, in Chillicothe’s Administration Building, everybody seemed open and helpful.
Chillicothe Mayor
     The openness about budget matters was a big surprise. We were used to the budget being considered a secret, like the formula for Coke or for a Masonic ritual. A copy of the Chillicothe budget was always available on a table outside the auditor’s office. You didn’t even have to ask for it, and get the runaround, as you do in Portsmouth. We talked to the city auditor, William Morrissey, a Republican, and also to Mayor Joseph Sulzer (shown here), a Democrat, both of whom have the education and experience, not to mention intelligence and articulateness, to justify the important positions they held. In Portsmouth, unfortunately, it seems that it is mainly the unsuccessful, the unscrupulous, and the un-indicted who gravitate toward city government.
     Austin returned to Chillicothe on July 10th, just four days after our July 6th visit, to attend a Chillicothe city council meeting. He told me that while there was debate and differences of opinions expressed at the council meeting, it was much more businesslike and non-confrontational than Portsmouth’s council meetings. It was all very professional, he told me, and so were the members of the Chillicothe City Council, including council President Robert Shoultz. Austin told me he talked afterwards to Shoultz about the two-year terms for council members. Chillicothe council members have two-year terms, Portsmouth city council members four-year terms. Portsmouth Council President Howard Baughman thought anything less that four years would create chaos, because, he said, it takes at least four years for council members to learn the ropes. Shoultz thought two-year terms made more sense, because voters could get rid of a council member by going to the polls every two years. They didn’t have to resort to the costly and troublesome recall process that is the alternative under the four-year system.
     I figured I would see the Chillicothe City Council in action for myself, so I drove up for the Monday September 25th meeting. Austin was right. For anyone used to city council meetings in Portsmouth, it was hard to believe. I got there early, almost a half hour before the meeting, but most members of the city government were already in the chamber, some in their seats. In Portsmouth, prior to the city council meeting, members usually meet for a half hour behind closed doors in the adjoining office of City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh, who was once officially found guilty by the state of mutilating recall petitions. The little get-togethers in her office beforehand are the real meetings, where deals are struck and strategies devised. Only councilman Bob Mollette will not take part in these closed-door shenanigans. When videographer Joe Ferguson opened the closed door and tried to take footage of one of these rump meetings, councilman Marty Mohr defiantly mugged for Joe’s camera (see insert), with Council President Howard Baughman smirking in the background, providing us with a candid, unscripted example of the real attitude of most Portsmouth politicians toward the voters. Incidentally, Mohr is the same councilman who nearly caused a riot at one meeting when he angrily denounced people in the audience as being “crap” for spreading rumors on the internet about his alleged adulterous behavior.
Take Me to Your Leader
     I asked Austin Leedom recently if he had to sum up his overall impression of Chillicothe in one word, what would it be. He said, “Openness!” When I compare the secretiveness and skullduggery of Portsmouth’s city government with the openness of Chillicothe’s, I am embarrassed for our city. To compare just the mayors of the two cities is to see why, as I said earlier, we felt not just that we were in another city but that we were on another planet. If a spaceship landed in Portsmouth and aliens told me, “Take us to your leader,” I might have to tell them, “I’m sorry. He isn’t here. He just drove over to Kentucky in his city car to buy lottery tickets.” I couldn’t possibly begin to make the aliens understand how uncomfortable Portsmouth's mayor Jim Kalb (shown here) felt driving to Kentucky in his little economy city car because what a public official of his importance should be driving is a new S.U.V. That's what he said at a council meeting.
     What my recent visits to Chillicothe did for me was serve as a reminder that what is going on in Portsmouth and Washington D.C. is not what’s going on everywhere else in the country. That Chillicothe is not perfect goes without saying. I know there are citizens who disagree with some policies and actions of their city government. But corruption, incompetence, and pork barreling have not become the norm in Chillicothe, as they have in Portsmouth. The two cities are alike in many ways, like twins, municipally speaking, but Portsmouth is the evil twin. City government in Chillicothe is of, by, and for the people, but in Portsmouth city government is of, by, and for a clique of crooks. By following Chillicothe’s example, Portsmouth could begin to climb out of the pit that it has dug itself into in the last half century, but not as long as it is controlled by crooks.