A Portsmouth native who is a friend of mine, and who knows the history of the city better than I do, recently told me that he absolutely cannot understand why the city government is determined to spend up to $20 million dollars to renovate the 125-year-old empty, moldy, and leaking Marting department store building for city offices. It doesn’t make any sense. At times it seems loony. My friend is baffled, and so am I, and so are the vast majority of other
Clayton Johnson is not leading the city forward. He is leading the city backward, all the way back to 1883, when the Marting department store building was erected. He is leading the city backward to more turmoil, to more referenda, to more litigation, and to more delay. The 125-year-old Marting building, which is hidden behind a phony brick façade (even the bricks are phony), is commercially and architecturally worthless and should have been torn down ten years ago. But it wasn’t. Why? I am not a lawyer, or an architect, or a psychiatrist, but I am a student of American literature, and I find in what is considered the great American novel, Moby Dick, a possible explanation for the Marting Madness.
When Clayton Johnson cooked up the Marting deal, he overreached. He got too greedy. He put a price tag of $2 million dollars on the Marting building, which was appraised for no more than $700,000 plus, and even that figure was much higher than it should have been. He overreached when he conspired with crooked city officials to sell the building to the city for $2 million. He didn’t act very smart. When the mayor and council members who conspired with him were recalled from office by outraged voters, Johnson was embarrassed. The man with the reputation as the smartest lawyer in town suddenly looked dumb, and greedy. He avoided talking with a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch who was writing a feature story on the whole mess. What could Johnson say? When the Mollettes brought suit and the Marting deal was invalidated by the courts for the secret and illegal way it had been put together, Johnson would have been not just embarrassed but professionally and personally humiliated.
Hoisted on his own Pequod
The white whale cost Captain Ahab a leg. The blowup of the Marting deal cost Clayton Johnson his reputation as
The name of Ahab’s ship was the Pequod. Ahab’s pursuit of the whale made no sense economically or ethically. In his mad pursuit of the white whale, Ahab endangered the Pequod and its crew. With his Marting Madness, Johnson is financially endangering