Thursday, September 20, 2007

Giving the Finger!

In the photo above, Portsmouth’s real estate predator, Neal Hatcher, is shown giving the finger to an onlooker while he oversees the replacement of Clayton Johnson’s sidewalks. The photo says it all, which is even more than you might think, for, ironically, in giving the finger, the helmeted Hatcher on his motor scooter manages to look even dorkier than Dukakis in the tank. Johnson and Hatcher are Portsmouth’s Odd Couple, and Hatcher was obviously very unhappy that Johnson had been pressured by concerned citizens into replacing the hazardous sidewalks outside his walled estate at the corner of Washington and 4th Streets. The rich-as-Croesis Odd Couple are not used to being pressured by anybody to do anything. In Portsmouth money talks, and Mayor Kalb and the City Council are all ears. If Hatcher wants to give the public the finger, who is going to stop him? Incidentally, is it just a coincidence that the name of the restaurant where Hatcher and Johnson used to tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte for lunch was the Fork and Finger? The Hatcher finger photo reveals graphically what the overprivileged have been giving the people of Portsmouth for a long time. If one picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million. Is it too much to hope that someday, when Portsmouth emerges from the Reign of the SOGP, that an artistic rendering of this photo will find a place on the Floodwall murals? We already have a mural depicting the Flood of 1938, but shouldn’t we memorialize Portsmouth’s other calamity. Shouldn’t we have one depicting Hatcher, and in what better pose than on his motor scooter giving the finger?

Hatcher is not the only one among the overprivileged who likes to give the finger. Harold Daub told me that he got the finger from Hatcher’s wife, the pork rind heiress. And some years back when Emily Gulker put up signs in her front yard in support of embattled SSU president James P. Chapman, former chair of the SSU trustees, Frank Waller, reportedly drove by her house and he, or someone in his car, gave Emily the finger. So suave, these city leaders. In contrast to his crude, uneducated sidekick, Johnson and the other overprivileged are more subtle about giving the finger. Unlike Hatcher, Johnson wraps his finger in culture and philanthropy. The public is not likely to suspect they are being given the finger by entities named the Southern Ohio Museum, the Marting Foundation, and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership. But they are.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “the bird,” or “the finger,” as “an obscene gesture of contempt made by pointing the middle finger upward while keeping the other fingers down.” What Merriam-Webster squeamishly chose not to point out is that the reason the gesture is obscene is that the finger symbolically substitutes for the penis.

Anthropologists provide more background on the obscene gesture. Giving the finger is, to use the anthropological term, an ancient “phallic aggressive” gesture. According to Wikipedia, the finger gesture is mostly used as a non-verbal way of saying ‘Fuck you.’” Lower primates, not having the capacity for symbolism of homo sapiens, don’t substitute the finger for the penis. In confrontations, they insultingly thrust their penis at their enemies, suggesting not only that they going to defeat them but they are also going to “screw” them. That may be why some primates indicate submissiveness to a more dominant male by turning the rump toward him.

There are two slang meanings for “screw,” according to Merriam-Webster: (1) Screw can either mean “to copulate with,” or (2) “to mistreat or exploit through extortion, trickery, or unfair actions; especially : to deprive or cheat out of something due or expected.” Merriam-Webster provides an example of “to screw” being used in the sense of to mistreat, exploit, or cheat. The example was provided by Nixon White House counsel John Dean III, who is quoted as saying that he and the Nixon White House used “the available Federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Screwing was apparently very much on Dean’s mind during the Watergate scandal, and not just the figurative kind of screwing.

Fair-haired Boy

The reporter Daniel Shore mentioned on PBS radio back in the Watergate era that one of the reasons that John Dean broke with the Nixon White House was not a sudden religious or ethical conversion but his fear he was being figuratively screwed (in sense # 2) by the older White House crew – Nixon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman; and that he would, if he allowed himself to be the fall guy, end up in a District of Columbia jail, where he could be screwed (in sense # 1) by sexually depraved prisoners, the majority of whom were African-Americans. Dean was sometimes described as “the fair-haired boy of the Nixon White House” and when it came time for Haldeman and Ehrlichman to find a fall guy, they chose Dean as the odd man, or odd boy, out. After females, fair-haired boys are the next to be screwed. In every bureaucracy, if you don’t want to get screwed, you have to follow the first law of survival: Cover Your Ass, known cryptically as “CYA.” Dean was following that law when, turning against those who were trying to screw him, he became the star witness for the prosecution in the Watergate trials. Dean’s career should serve as a warning: Be careful, because the faired-haired boy you try to screw can end up screwing you, as Dean demonstrated by repudiating the Nixon Administration and making a second career of criticizing the current Bush administration, which he calls, in the title of one of his books, Worse than Watergate.

Spilling the Beans

When the Bridge to Nowhere, the new U.S. Grant Bridge, opened in October 2006 to great fanfare, radio coverage was provided by WNXT’s Steve Hayes, who reported from inside the Ramada Inn that Bob Huff (shown here), the head of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, was outside “giving people the finger.” He was kidding, of course. But in slips of the tongue and in quips and jokes, Freud pointed out, we reveal things that we otherwise would not dare express. Hayes is the eternally adolescent chatterbox for the overprivileged who screw the people of Portsmouth, but being the hip nature lover that he is, having to kiss the asses of guys in suits really bugs him. On the morning of the bridge opening, Hayes was like a kid on Halloween letting the cat out of the bag. On that solemn occasion, which was touted as the beginning of Portsmouth’s return to prosperity, Hayes spilled the beans with his quip about Huff. What Hayes was saying, if you understand the language of the unconscious, was that the overprivileged of Portsmouth, concentrated in the SOGP and the Chamber of Commerce, are in fact constantly giving people the finger. But why did Hayes accuse Bob Huff, of all people, of being the one giving people the finger? Because Huff is the fair-haired boy, the “gofer” for the overprivileged. Hayes would not have accused somebody at the top of Portsmouth’s provincial pecker order (such as Johnson or Hatcher) of giving the people the finger. No, if Hayes made jokes about Johnson or Hatcher, his own ass would soon have been in a sling, and he would have had to take his eternal-adolescent nature-boy shtick to some other market.

Royal Screwing

Portsmouth is presently in the process of getting royally screwed. Our complaisant and corrupt city officials, whom the Portsmouth Times in a recent headline flatteringly called “city leaders,” are about to turn the site of the present Municipal Building over to some unnamed real estate developer so that he can build a hotel and convention center. This game of footsie about an unnamed developer has been going on for about ten years. To cater to this mysterious unnamed real estate developer, our corrupt city officials and Mayor Kalb in particular have publicly condemned the Municipal Building as a death-trap and tried to stick the taxpayers with the Marting Building as a replacement. But when the Marting scam produced a political firestorm and was scuttled in a referendum, our corrupt city officials appointed a Building Committee to look for another site. In other words, they were appointed to pull another municipal building scam. The unelected First Ward councilman and self-confessed pussy-addict Mike Mearan was appointed chair of the Building Committee, as he had just previously been appointed First Ward councilman, and he promptly appointed the addicted drug courier and purse-snatching Heather Hren, whom he was dating, as stenographer of the Building Committee. What did this Building Committee, chaired by Mearan, choose as the site for a new municipal building? Wouldn’t you know! They chose the site of the so-called Adelphia building, a property Mearan once owned and made a fast $95,000 on before selling it to Dr. Singer of Los Angeles. In serving on the Building Committee, which chose the site owned by Singer for a proposed new 12 million dollar municipal building, Mearan had a blatant conflict of interest. At the same time he was employed by Singer to help unload his decrepit Adelphia property, Mearan was chairing the committee that recommended Singer’s property as the site for a new municipal building. Where else but in a city in which City Solicitor David Kuhn was the chief legal officer could such a fraud have been perpetrated?

When the time comes for the unknown developer to buy the Municipal Building site, count on the phrase “fair price” being bandied about. Remember the scam in which the 15th Street Viaduct was sold to the developer Mullins for a song because the property was allegedly contaminated and would take millions of dollars to clean up? Well, it turned out, after Mullin acquired the property for a fraction of its potential value, that there was no contamination. What would a fair price for the Municipal Building site be? Under current circumstances, the site is not very valuable. Why would anyone want to build a hotel and convention center directly across the street from the Ramada Inn, known in travel circles as the “Queen of the Rust Belt”? The Ramada has survived by mooching on public funds. If it hadn’t served as a dormitory for SSU students and as a half-way house for wayward, would it still be in business?


Building a hotel and convention center across from the Ramada makes as much sense as building a new department store across from Marting’s. The only justification for calling the Municipal Building site “prime real estate,” as our lapdog mayor has, is if gambling comes to Portsmouth. The only way our Bridge to Nowhere makes sense is if gambling comes to Portsmouth. Then that site, next to the bridge, becomes a goldmine. But will whoever buys it pay what it is potentially worth? Not likely. The purpose of our city government is to enable the developers and dishonest lawyers to screw the public. Mearan made a fast $95,000 on the Adelphia site. The Marting’s Foundation almost got away with $2,000,000. That figure will be chickenfeed compared to the profits that will be made on the Municipal Building and Adelphia sites if and when gambling comes to the city. The new Democratic governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick is calling for opening three casino resorts in the Commonwealth. The president of a Boston TV channel said, “In the end, a lot of people stand to become very wealthy owning these casinos.”

I grew up in a coastal Boston suburb of Revere, which had been a basket case economically for centuries. Then, in the early 1900s, the town saw a way out. It had a beach front, as Portsmouth has a river front, and it turned that into a kind of New England Coney Island, with lots of rides and games of chance. Then in the middle of the Great Depression, in the 1930s, Revere welcomed big time gambling, specifically pari-mutuel horse and dog tracks. In addition, there was an extensive underground gambling economy. When I was in middle school, a boy in my homeroom took bets on races. He was a precocious bookmaker. Revere became known not only as the Gambling Capital of New England but its Crime Capital as well. It became one of the most notorious cities in Massachusetts.

It was not “a lot of people” who profited from the gambling and vice in Revere. It was relatively few. And you can bet it will be relatively few who will get wealthy if gambling comes to Portsmouth. And you can bet that the public will get screwed, royally, before predatory developers and crooked politicians are through. Talk about getting the finger!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sidewalk Shenanigans: 2

The photo above suggests how city inspector Justice should have marked Johnson's hazardous sidewalks

     The Portsmouth City Engineering Dept. periodically and apparently haphazardly inspects sidewalks in the city, marking with bright orange paint sections that are potentially hazardous for pedestrians. Only the sightless could miss these “mark-ups,” as they are called. In addition, the property owners are given warnings and a specified time by which they must make repairs at their own expense. How long property owners have to fix their sidewalks is stipulated in the City Charter: 30 days.
      Early in 2005, the City Engineer’s office marked up sidewalks in the Boneyfiddle district. St. Mary’s Church had its sidewalks marked up and received notification letters from the City Engineer. At about the same time, a number of sidewalks directly across the street from Clayton Johnson’s residence, on the corner of Washington and 4th Streets, were marked up. Those homeowners across from Johnson received a letter notifying them they had thirty days from the date of the letter by which to make the repairs. The property owners across the street from the Johnson residence made repairs on their sidewalk. Johnson did not, even though his sidewalks were in bad shape and had been getting worse for some time. In fact, so many of sections of Johnson’s sidewalks on Washington Street and on 4th Streets were beyond repair and needed to be replaced.
      Though Johnson’s sidewalks had been marked up in 2005, they were not repaired and the orange mark-ups gradually faded. His sidewalks remained hazardous to pedestrians, particularly to senior citizens, especially in winter. Early in 2006, photographs of Johnson’s hazardous sidewalks were posted on the Concerned Citizens Group website, where viewers were asked to try to identify whose sidewalks they were. Someone who walked up Washington St. regularly to have lunch at Toro Loco immediately recognized the photos as Johnson’s sidewalk. He knew the cracks and crevices by heart.
Well into 2007, Johnson’s sidewalks remained the public hazard they had been for years. In June 2007, Teresa Mollette went to the Engineer’s Office and asked why the city continued to do nothing about Johnson’s sidewalks. The Asst. Engineer looked to see if there was a copy on file of a 2005 letter to Johnson, notifying him of the mark-ups, but no copy could be found. On June 20, 2007, Asst. Engineer Bill Beaumont and Residential Building Inspector Larry Justice met with Johnson to inspect and mark-up his sidewalks. It is a reasonable assumption that this meeting would not have occurred if photos of the sidewalks had not been posted on the internet and if Teresa Mollette had not made her inquiry. On June 26, Beaumont wrote a letter to Johnson, which included the following paragraph: “You are hereby instructed to have the marked-up sidewalks replaced/repaired per sidewalk specifications located in the Engineering department. This work needs to be completed within sixty (60) days of the date of this letter.” Sixty days is twice the number called for in the City Charter and twice the number of days given to others in the neighborhood early in 2005. Sixty days from June 26 was August 25.
Missing the Deadline

      By Monday August 20, fifty four days had gone by but neither repairs or replacement of Johnson’s sidewalks had even begun. On Tuesday, August 21, Teresa Mollette dropped by the Engineer’s Office and pointed out that the sixty-day deadline was drawing near. If the work was not done by the end of the week, Saturday, August 25, Johnson would be in violation of city ordinances and presumably liable for a fine. Whether it had to do with Mollette’s visit to the Engineer’s Office on Tuesday, August 21, on the morning of Wednesday, August 22, Johnson’s neighbors were awakened by the rumble of tractors and trucks of Neal Hatcher’s JNH Construction Company, which were tearing up Johnson’s sidewalks
JNH was not through replacing Johnson’s sidewalks until Wed., August 29. So Johnson was given twice the time called for in the charter, and twice the time of others in the neighborhood, and then he waited until the last week to begin replacing them, and might not have then if Teresa Mollette had been applying pressure.
      Thanks to pressure from concerned citizens and the publicity generated on the internet, the hazardous sidewalks in front of the Johnson estate are no more. Boneyfiddle and Portsmouth are a little safer and less unsightly than they were. Johnson has done his civic duty, even if belatedly and reluctantly.

Thatcher's Unmarked Sidewalks

      Johnson is not the only Boneyfiddle property owner shown favoritism. Take the property of the lawyer John Thatcher on the corner of 3rd and Washington Streets. The sidewalks surrounding the house and garage Thatcher owns on that site are badly in need of repair, and have been for years, but they have not been marked by the City Engineering Dept. The city apparently does not hassle Thatcher about violations of city ordinances the way it does Harold Daub and David Newman, who are not in the good graces of city officials.
      Why are Thatcher’s sidewalks spared? Is it because like Johnson he is one of the overprivileged of Portsmouth? Thatcher was a member of City Council for a number of years, and there was no one on the council more determined to tear down the Municipal Building. Why? Because, he claimed, it was falling down and a safety hazard. I suspect that’s not his only reason for wanting the building down. Active in Republican politics, he litters his yard at the corner of Washington and 3rd Streets each election season with political signs. Thatcher’s political connections have worked to his financial advantage as a property owner. He owned a white elephant house on Franklin Blvd. that he was having trouble selling, a lot of trouble at the price he was asking. In SeaView, the magazine of the Shawnee Education Association, I wrote about the shenanigans accompanying the sale of Thatcher’s empty Franklin Blvd. house to Shawnee State University for a ridiculously high price. When SSU finally sold the house, the taxpayers of Ohio lost $50,000 on that housing shenanigan. Thatcher’s wife, also very active in Republican political circles, had served on the SSU Board of Trustees, so Thatcher, like other overprivileged lawyers and businessmen, are in a position to receive political favors from the trustees of SSU. The political prostitution that goes on in Boneyfiddle can be gauged by the number of signs Thatcher manages to cram on his property. Like the whores of John Street, Thatcher believes in advertising, although the signs the prostitutes use are more subtle and less of an eyesore.
      Since the City Auditor no longer has anything to say about sidewalks, in spite of obligations placed on him by the City Charter, might the chief legal officer of city government, City Solicitor Kuhn, exercise some kind of restraint on sidewalk shenanigans? Forget it! Kuhn is joined at the hip with Thatcher, and all the other unprincipled characters in Portsmouth. If you get a chance, the next time you drive by Thatcher’s parking lot on Washington and 3rd Streets, stop and look at the sidewalks around the Thatcher-Kuhn signs, which are nailed together.