Saturday, June 03, 2006

Vox Porkopoli


Writing recently in Rolling Stone magazine, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., claims that “Republicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted – enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.” When it comes to elections, there’s something about Ohio. The whole nation now knows that.

What is true at the state level, in Ohio, is also true at the smallest political unit, the ward, or at least in Portsmouth’s First Ward, which I live in. A candidate who was not a legal resident of our ward was allowed to run for the city council in 2004, though the city charter states that anyone running for city council must be a resident of the ward he or she seeks to represent. The candidate in question, Timothy Loper, had already shown himself useful on the city council to the people who control Portsmouth, so a residency requirement was not going to be allowed to stand in the way of his representing a ward he did not live in. Portsmouth’s sleazy city solicitor, David Kuhn, took Loper under his wing and advised him each crooked step of the way. Through a tortured and ridiculous display of legal finagling, Kuhn declared Loper was still a legal resident of Ward One even though he had moved to another ward.

I challenged the city solicitor’s tortured logic and appealed to the Scioto County Board of Elections. The Board ruled Loper was not a legal resident of the First Ward, having moved out before the November 2004 election. Since he was not a legal resident of the First Ward, Loper was not a legal candidate in that election. Defying logic and the Board of Elections, Kuhn delivered a formal ruling declaring that Loper, although living in the Sixth Ward, was a legal resident of the First Ward.

The issue of whether Loper was still the legal representative of the First Ward, of whether the Board of Elections or Kuhn was correct, was placed on the agenda of the city council. Because witnesses would have appeared at that meeting, and Kuhn would have been required to defend his flatulent ruling on Loper’s status, there was no way that council meeting was going to take place. One of the ways in which the Portsmouth city council avoids having to face the truth is to have several council members not come to a meeting. Lacking a quorum, the meeting is cancelled. The first meeting of the city council I ever attended, several years ago, was cancelled under just those circumstances, when current mayor, then president of council Jim Kalb joined others in absenting himself. Like students who skip school rather than show up for a test they know they will flunk, the city council absented themselves rather then face the Loper issue.

Cockamamie Argument

Shortly thereafter, Loper resigned from the city council, claiming he did not have the money to hire a lawyer to defend himself. Somebody was providing thousands of
dollars of materials to renovate the decrepit house Loper had fraudulently claimed as his First Ward residence, and somebody was providing the labor for the renovation, so his poverty plea rings hollow. I believe Loper was persuaded to resign by those who knew that the ruling of the Scioto Board of Elections would prevail over Kuhn’s cockamamie argument, and Loper had become an embarrassment who was not worth fighting for. Loper said at the time of his resignation that he had been persuaded by certain unnamed businessmen that he was mayoral material and should consider running for Mayor in 2008. Holding out the prospect of his being mayor someday
that was possibly one of the lures Loper’s handlers used to get him to resign. At one council meeting Loper vowed he would not be played for a dummy any longer, but that declaration, if sincere, did not last long.

Elections are supposed to be the essence of democracy. But instead of having a special election for the First Ward, the city council is going to appoint Loper’s successor. The city charter does allow the council to appoint the replacement of somebody who vacates a seat for any reason. But my argument is that Loper did not legally occupy the seat, since he was unqualified to run for the seat in the first place. Thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of others have died in Iraq. One of the reasons for their sacrifice has allegedly been to have free elections in Iraq. But in Portsmouth’s First Ward we will not have an election. Even if Loper’s election was illegal, Kuhn has been quoted saying in the Portsmouth Daily Times, the city council has the right to appoint his replacement. Even if the election was not legal!

Another argument that has been made is that the city cannot afford a special election. A city government has squandered millions of dollars on the Marting building, which the voters have consistently indicated they did not want, but a couple of thousand dollars on an election, that we are told we cannot afford. The mayor thinks the city can afford somewhere between $25,000 to $35,000 on a new Ford Expedition for him, to improve the city’s image, but not a dime to allow voters of the First Ward to choose our council person. No, they will choose our representative for us. One of the six council members has already been appointed, rather than elected, and yet another one will mean one-third of the city council will not have been elected.

And what of the somewhat kettle-of-fish pool of applicants the city council will choose from? The relatively large number of them alone may reveal something important about the porkish character of Portsmouth.

Loper ran unopposed in Nov. 2004. So why now, less than two years after that election, do we have some six applicants (who presumably are legal residents of the First
Ward) when we previously had only one candidate? I have trouble trying to figure this one out, but the only explanation that occurs to me is that, given the porking of our local culture, being given something is so much more enticing to potential Portsmouth politicians than earning it. An election presumes candidates will do the difficult work of collecting signatures and do at least some campaigning. Unlike applicants, candidates have to run for office. That usually takes months of effort, even at the ward level. It might even require the expenditure of a little money for campaign expenses.

It is much easier to apply to the city council for the office, rather than run for it. For applicants there is no collecting signatures, no running the gauntlet that City Clerk Aeh, City Solicitor Kuhn, and Police Chief Horner set up for dissident candidates, who are treated like
domestic terrorists. An applicant can have the whole process over in about a week. How much easier it is to receive than give. The Portsmouth City Council gives new meaning to the phrase “to apply oneself.” Maybe there should be I Applied buttons for applicants

Vox populi is Latin for voice of the people. What we’ve got in Portsmouth appears to be vox porkopoli.

I Applied

To view other River Vices blogs on the theme of Portsmouth pork: