Monday, September 01, 2008

Our Jughead Mayor

Mayor Kalb at work at Kroger's

A national debate is raging over whether candidates for the presidency and vice presidency have the experience to qualify them for high office. Being a Harvard Law School graduate and president of the Harvard Law Review and a community organizer and state senator and then Senator from Illinois does not qualify Barack Obama for being president? And being a mayor and then governor of Alaska does not qualify Sarah Palin for being vice president of the United States? Excuse me America, but how would you feel if the only experience the highest executive officer in your municipal corporation, the mayor, was as a failed grocery clerk? How would you feel if your chief executive was a Jughead whose chief concern in life is with what “wheels” he’s driving. If you try to find the mayor in his office some Friday, chances are he’s off on some weekend motorcycle rally. Don’t look for him Thursdays, either, because he hasn’t completely given up his day job as a grocery clerk at Kroger’s, which he drives to on Thursdays in the city car he is so ashamed of.

If you do find Kalb in his office, chances are, when he is not stewing over the inadequacy of the salary he is receiving for being the city’s part-time mayor, he’s stewing over the indignity of having to drive a city automobile that is not commensurate with his importance as the chief executive officer of Portsmouth. On August 29, Frank Lewis reported in the Portsmouth Daily Times that “Some questions in the community have prompted Portsmouth Mayor James Kalb to respond with answers as to why he will be driving a new 2008 model car earmarked for Portsmouth Police Department under the capital improvements budget.” Now that he has, with the help of the City Solicitor, put Captain Queeg in dry dock, Kalb has eliminated his chief rival in the Car Wars that has raged in city government for the last couple of years. Portsmouth city government was not wide enough to accommodate both Mayor Kalb and Police Chief Horner, two men with extremely low ethical and very high vehicular (i.e. testicular) standards.

As reported by Frank Lewis, Horner told Kalb “I know you have put yourself in for a car, but we've got this seized vehicle, this (2005 Chrysler) 300, and if you look at it and you like it, we'll put new wheels on it and everything, and it will still belong to the police department, but you can drive that for the mayor's office.” A seized 2005 Chrysler 300 doesn’t have the cojones of a seized Cadillac Escalade, which was what Horner was driving, but the mayor swallowed his pride and accepted the Chrysler 300 because he “felt it would be a proper car for taking visiting officials around in.” The only standard Kalb has for cars he drives around is whether or not his car is going to impress the visitors he hauls around our run-down drug and prostitute plagued city.

The Shame! The Shame!

Kalb drove the seized Chrysler 300 for a couple of weeks, but then Horner told him that Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn said it was against the law for the mayor to be driving a seized vehicle. Frank Lewis reported that Kalb got upset. “Here I am without a car,” Kalb complained, sounding like a seven-year-old, “and they're getting all of their cars . . .” Actually, Kalb was not without a car. He had available to him as mayor a 1999 Ford Victoria, but he told Lewis, “It's not a bad car, but it's not something I would want to pick up a ranking official in. It's got holes in the seat, and the carpet is threadbare.” How dare anyone expect the mayor of Portsmouth to drive visitors around in a 1999 “Vic” with holes in the seat and a threadbare carpet! And think of the humiliation when he drives to his second job Thursday mornings at Kroger’s, and those other grocery clerks who have so little respect for him whisper behind his back about the Ford with the threadbare carpets that he has driven to work in. The shame! The shame!

Kalb's Ford Victoria, which he is so ashamed of, parked next to Kroger's on a Thursday Morning

Kalb told the PDT he believes “the mayor of a city should have a car at least as new and that runs as well as other cars being utilized by city employees. Sixty percent of the employees in the city are driving nicer vehicles than the mayor is driving,” Kalb said. “I would think that position (mayor) would require a decent car to drive.” Kalb may not have had a clue that a huge rock was being heisted from the Ohio, but he’s figured out the percentage of people under him who have cars better than his. What formula does he use to come up with that sixty percent? What weight did he assign to the age, the mileage, the condition, and how threadbare the carpet is? Since he spends so little time at his computer, accept to read Moe’s Forum, how did he do all the calculations to figure out who has a better car than him? Is he getting help from the city council math wizard David Malone? Is that who helps him decide how to rank a 1999 Ford Victoria, a seized Cadillac Escalade, and a seized 2005 Chrysler 300?

Kalb got even with Horner. The police department had on order two new cars, a Ford Crown Victoria and a Dodge Charger. As chief executive officer, the mayor has first dibs on any new car, provided it is not a seized vehicle. “Sure,” he told the PDT, “the mayor can take any car in the city and drive it if he wants.” Having already lost face by driving the 1999 Ford Victoria, Kalb wanted no part of the 2008 Ford Victoria. He chose the Dodge Charger.

Former City Building Committee stenographer (and Councilman Mike Mearan’s employee) Heather Hren got very good mileage when she drove a sub-sub-compact Chevy Aveo in transporting illegal drugs from Columbus to Portsmouth, and Mearan, who rented the Aveo for her, should be commended for thinking of fuel efficiency first, as he also does for himself when he scampers around town in his motor scooter. Jughead’s buddy Archie Andrews, growing up in the 1940s, drove a 1916 Model T Ford and was proud of it, but the generation of Potheads who never came of age in the 1960s got their priorities all mixed up and think the car, or the cycle, makes the man.

Kalb acts as if he is doing this for us, the citizens of Portsmouth. It is our dignity that he is protecting by driving around in the newest, biggest, snazziest car in the city fleet. You see, we are supposed to be thankful he doesn’t have to feel ashamed to be driving ranking visitors around Portsmouth in a car that is in the lowest fortieth percentile.

I recently received an email from somebody who claimed, “I was a classmate of Mayor Kalb in high school and when I found out recently he was the mayor of Portsmouth I could not stop laughing. This guy was an irrelevant goof, a petty criminal.” I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the emailer’s memory, but others in Portsmouth have told me the same thing. I am embarrassed, as a citizen of Portsmouth, not that Kalb had to drive ranking visitors around in a 1999 Ford Victoria, but that ranking visitors had to drive around with him, because Kalb probably graduated not in the fortieth but the fifth percentile of his class. I would guess ninety-five percent of his classmate had a better academic record than him. If Kalb got what he deserved, and what he’s worth, he would be driving Archie Andrew’s jalopy, with Betty, Veronica, and Jughead, not some ranking visitors, along for the joyride.