Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The most recent unsuccessful attempt by Mayor Kalb and his cronies in city government to convert the Marting department store into the seat of city government at public expense, and the shyster Mike Mearan’s attempt to cut his Los Angeles absentee landlord client Dr. Singer in on the stick-the-public-with-worthless-property-scam neither of these crooked deals would have bedeviled Portsmouth for the last six years if it had not been for gambling, or the possibility of legalized gambling, coming to Portsmouth.

The unmarketable Marting building on Chillicothe St. and the worthless Singer property on Washington St. became hot properties only because the city could not hand over the municipal property to the crooked developers and shyster lawyers until a new home could be found for city offices. It was the need to find someplace, anyplace, to move city offices to, as soon as possible, that made these worthless properties have any value. No sucker had been found in the private sector to take the Marting building off the hands of the Marting Foundation, even though a ruse was employed to make it appear there was more traffic on Chillicothe St., near the Marting building. Nobody in the private sector was foolish enough to throw their money away on the Marting building, or on Dr. Singer’s toxic Washington St. building, so Clayton Johnson and the Marting Foundation and Mike Mearan unloaded these worthless structures on the city – in the case of the Marting building for $2 million, in the case of Singer’s property for the delinquent taxes Singer owed on the property and for an IRS write-off he could get after the city put it to public use.

Gambling is the domino that started the chain reaction: lose sight of that and you lose sight of the craze, the casino craze, of the last six years. Some downtown businessmen saw casino gambling as Portsmouth's salvation. "Kevin Johnson, co-owner of the Emporium of Portsmouth," reported the Portsmouth Daily Times in June 2005, "said there are a number of reasons he is supporting legalized casino gambling, including the potential for significant economic development." Analyze the current political impasse without factoring in gambling and you are analyzing nothing but the limits of your own understanding of Portsmouth and why some Portsmouth lawyers are reportedly buying up land across the river, in Kentucky. Gambling explains the deliberate neglect of the Municipal Building over the last ten or fifteen years. Gambling explains the empty Marting department store being unloaded on the taxpayers. Gambling explains the leaking and moldy Adelphia building becoming the proposed site for a Justice Center. Gambling explains what has happened with these buildings, and whatever other unmarketable properties the city might yet try to unload on the taxpayers as a possible site for city buildings. If Singer’s property turns out not to be the site for a new city buildings, the Fifth Third Bank building could become a possibility again. Mearan was at one time floating the Fifth Third as a possible home for city offices. Whether or not Fifth Third is still in the picture, the important point is that, given the scheme that Kalb & Co. have concocted, renovating and restoring the Municipal Building is absolutely out of the question because that would mean the land under it would not become available to developers for gambling-related purposes. That literally is what’s at the bottom of the city’s current political mess. The problem is not the alleged irreparable condition of the Municipal Building but the land, the potential goldmine, under it.

Hatching the Scheme

There are those who criticize Kalb and the city government for having no plan for the city. They are wrong. Kalb and Co. have a plan, or more accurately a scheme, even though they won’t admit it. The scheme is to turn over in a sweetheart deal the land on which the Municipal building currently sits to local developers and lawyers who will make many millions if casino gambling comes to Portsmouth and vicinity. That plan was first hatched more than ten years ago. Kalb said publicly more than once in the past that the municipal land is “prime real estate,” and that a local developer was very interested in it. More recently, he has become more cagey, claiming there is no party in particular interested in the property, just a general interest. He is, of course, protecting the identity or identities of those whose useful tool he is.

What else can we expect from a mayor who is addicted not only to nicotine but to gambling, who drives a city vehicle to Kentucky not only for his smokes but for his lottery tickets, a man who could be a poster child for the harmful effects of prolonged use of marijuana?

It doesn’t really matter how far from downtown the city offices will be as long as the site of the present Municipal Building is torn down to make way for gambling related development. Shawnee State U. could play an important role in helping Portsmouth out of the hole it’s in, but not as long as the university is in control of the kind of characters who have dominated the Board of Trustees for the last quarter of a century. If the trustees, led by George Clayton, could stash the president of Shawnee State university in an unmarketable house a couple of miles away from the downtown campus, at the top of Camelot Drive, where it had to be buttressed to stop it from sliding down the unstable hill, then what’s to stop the low-lifes in city government from erecting a new city building on the Singer property, in no-man’s land, in the shadow of the billowing Osco factory? They would build a city in Timbuktu, just as long as they could move out of the Municipal Building and let the bulldozers and the developers take over.

All claims that the Municipal Building is irreparable must be seen in the light of gambling. All claims that the decrepit Marting building, which is a half century older than the Municipal Building, would be a great place to relocate city offices must be seen in the light of gambling. The U.S. Post Office was built at about the same time and in the same style and of similar materials as the Municipal Building, but nobody claims that it is about to collapse. Nobody has neglected upkeep of the Post Office with the aim of tearing it down to make way for a “Convention Center.” Convention Center! Who the hell is going to come to a convention in Portsmouth? The National Society of Five Dollar Hookers? The Amalgamated Union of Drug Dealers and Crack Heads? The only thing a Portsmouth “Convention Center” would attract is gamblers and a higher class of hookers. Only the incorrigibly foolish expected a $6 million makeover of the Marting building was going to revive downtown Portsmouth when a $38 million dollar bridge to downtown Portsmouth did not. Voters knew that converting the leaky-creaky Marting department store into city offices and into a place to buy a newspaper and a cup of coffee was not going to revive downtown Portsmouth. By a large majority, voters made it clear twice, in elections in May 2006 and November 2008, that they wanted no part of that scheme.

Nobody is going to revive downtown Portsmouth as a retail shopping center. Nobody could in 1980 and nobody could in 2008. We are about to get instead a sprawling non-revenue producing high school athletic complex in downtown Portsmouth on land that Neal Hatcher tried and failed to build a large downtown shopping mall. Let the high school games begin! Hatcher gambled but, playing by rules that are all in his favor, it was the taxpayers who lost, as it will be if casino gambling ever comes to Portsmouth. The risk that has been wrung out of the local economy by and for the few who who have a chokehold on it would be reintroduced, in a distilled form, in casino gambling. The wheels of industry would be replaced by the wheel of fortune, the entrepreneur by the croupier, as I suggested in an earlier posting "Slots and Sluts."

Casino Capitalism

Kalb & Co.’s passion for casinos should be seen in the larger context of the financial crisis that now exists throughout the world as a result of what economist Robert Kutner calls Casino Capitalism, which to escape from creeping socialism has been snowballing ever since the beginning of rampant deregulation during the Reagan administration. Banks and other financial institutions whose names are now notoriously familiar have enticed and tricked the trusting and the desperate, the gullible and the elderly, into living beyond their means by piling up credit card debt and by taking out mortgages on property they couldn’t afford. Thomas Friedman in the NY Times called attention to a Mexican strawberry picker in California who, “with an income of $14,000 and no English, was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.” Even some of those who had paid off their mortgages and owned their homes free and clear were bamboozled into remortgaging their homes with high-risk, high-interest loans. Peter J. Boyer in the New Yorker recounted the plight of a ninety-year-old African-American widow in Dayton, Ohio, who was talked into remortgaging her home, which she owned free and clear, and who when she couldn’t keep up with the high payments of the new mortgage and faced eviction, tried to shoot herself.

Casino Capitalism in America was not confined to the last twenty years. In his account of his experiences as a bond trader thirty years ago on Wall Street, in the 1980s, Michael Lewis in his book Liar’s Poker chronicled the astonishing greed of the people he worked with and for on Wall Street, and the contempt they had for anyone who made less money than they did. For the last four years in River Vices I have been blogging about similar greedy characters in Portsmouth, and three of them in particular who appear dehumanized by their lust for money, and one of whom, in a story I have heard a number of times, and find not hard to believe considering the man’s reputation, was asked how much money it would take to satisfy him. “There will never be enough money,” he reportedly replied.

The presumption prevails that a business that caters to a human vice, such as gambling, will always have plenty of money and can never go broke. Nevada, the gambling and prostitution capital of America, was once thought to be recession proof. Not any more. Nevada was one of seven states that led the way into the current recession. Nevada led the country per capita in subprime mortgages, which is the financial Russian roulette form of gambling that triggered the current world financial crisis. Las Vegas was hoisted on its own Peppard. ( I am thinking of “The Rabbit Who Ate Las Vegas” episode of the TV Series The A Team, starring George Peppard, in which an otherwise absent-minded professor devises a gambling system to beat the Las Vegas casinos.) What happened in Las Vegas, the gambling, didn’t stay in Las Vegas. It infected the rest of the country, and then it returned to Las Vegas in the form of subprime mortgages. Gambling is a parasitic industry that depends on a non-gambling host for its survival, and on otherwise normal people in surrounding states and regions who actually work for a living. The slice of the pie gets smaller and smaller as more states and localities take the gambling route and fewer and fewer people are gainfully and productively employed. When the whole economy becomes a gamble, when gambling becomes America’s national pastime, with the stock market as its field of dreams, and when Free Market Fundamentalism becomes our financial religion, even Las Vegas became a shit hole to Wall Street plungers.

Getting out of the economic hole that Portsmouth has been sinking into for almost a half century is going to be very hard, and there is no guarantee that it will ever get out of it, but what Portsmouth needs to give up is the illusion of finding prosperity through gambling. (Remember Rev. David Malone’s “City of Prosperity” program, not long before he pleaded for forgiveness for committing adultery with a member of his congregation?) The people of Portsmouth need to replace Malone, Kalb, Albrecht, and Mearan, as they have already recalled or helped forced out Bauer, Caudill, Sydnor, Loper, Mohr, Horner, and now Howard “I’m not really a politician” Baughman. Portsmouth needs to put more honest people in public office and more crooks in jail. It needs to stop the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership from fixing the game.

Above all, Portsmouth needs to stop believing the myths of the past, such as that three evil council members sabotaged "the Mall" back in 1980, and the myths of the present, perpetrated by Art Kuhn at the Portsmouth Daily Times, that a handful of "naysayers" are all that stand in the way of Portsmouth's revival. What Kuhn really can't stand is democracy and free elections in which the "naysayers" outvote him and those who listen to him by overwhelming margins. Portsmouth has got to stop listening to Kuhn's lies and stop gambling with its future.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Last Poster

The Last Poster of the City Center

Where have all the City Center posters gone –

Those tawdry intimations of eternal spring –

Those pastel promises of greenbacks,

Flush, like three-dollar Bills on John Street,

Tanner and Stone’s latest masterpieces

Of architectural pornography?

Like birds of paradise perched on telephone wires

In a world of carcinogenic cell phones,

The posters sat in almost every window

In downtown Portsmouth, in abated businesses,

In banks that mix business with politics,

Signs of the age of promiscuous credit carding.

In FOR RENT store-fronts galore, the posters implied

They would do what a thirty-eight million dollar

Bridge To Nowhere had failed to do: bring back the past,

Bring back the bustling Saturdays on Chillicothe Street,

Bring back the crowds of shoppers and bar hoppers,

Bring back the necking in the Columbia balcony,

Bring back youth, innocence and lost hair,

Bring back the exhilaration of the 1940s,

The elixir of youth, the gartered ladies and gents,

Bring back the Breck Girl and “A Little Dab’ll do ya,”

“Tuxedo Junction,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood”

To offset the nightmare of Dubya Dubya Dubya,

Mortgage brokers and Free Market Fundamentalists,

The machinations of the Marting Foundation –

The lies, the lies, the lies of the Progress Portsmouth Committee!

The news in the Portsmouth Daily Times,

More slanted than an Olympic ski jump,

The spirit of Portsmouth, like the Kinney Spring, polluted.

And then the citizens rose up, on November 4, 2008,

Like angry peasants, and drove a democratic stake

Through the heart of the unrenovated monster,

The leaking department store, the running sore:

“Good Things are Not Sold Here!” “In S.O.G.P. We Trust!”

Bauer, Kalb, Baughman, don’t forget Marty Mohr.

So hurry down to the Marting store

If you want to see the Last Poster of the City Center

Before that blasted building bites the dust,

Because, as Mohr said, “It ain’t worth anything.”

How much is that doggone poster in the window?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Morning After

"It ain't worth anything." Marty Mohr, quoted on the Marting building in the Columbus Dispatch, June 20, 2004.

I really showed my age on this one. I mean on the City and Justice Center issue on the November 4 ballot. I had correctly pointed out in the first posting I made on River Vices, on July 29, 2004, "Digital Revolution," that technological advances in the area of communication, and the emergence of the internet in particular, had leveled the political playing field in Portsmouth. But knowing something and really believing it are not always the same thing. Recently, I have been guilty of believing, as a person of a certain age, that the saturation of pro-Marting-Adelphia (i.e., City/Justice Center) ads on the radio and in the Portsmouth Daily Times and Community Common, and the lies that were being told by the Progress Portsmouth Committee (PPC) in those ads and in flyers and postcards about the true costs of the project, would convince a majority of citizens to vote for the Marting-Adelphia scam.
Daub Still Going Strong
But people, I failed to remind myself, no longer rely only on the local media, and the Daily Times and WNXT in particular, for news about Portsmouth and Scioto County, as was the case back in 1980, when the myth of the “Savior Shopping Mall that was Crucified by Three Evil Council Members” first took hold. Harold Daub (at left in 1980), one of those three council men, who still is going strong, is still being criticized, as he was during this campaign, for allegedly helping kill the Savior Shopping Center, even though Speaker Riffe had wisely decided a university would be better for downtown Portsmouth than a shopping center.
David and Goliath
The websites of Teresa Mollette and her councilman husband Bob Mollette, and the blogs and internet chatrooms like Moe’s Forum, devoted to Portsmouth politics, were obviously more than enough to offset the lies in the local media and in the campaign literature of the Progress Portsmouth Committee. The lies and distortions in the local media about the Marting-Adelphia scam were instantly exposed in the blogosphere. When I interviewed Bob Mollette in 2004 at the County Courthouse for my documentary about the recall of Mayor Bauer, he used the David and Goliath metaphor to characterize the victory over the corrupt Bauer administration. Mollette used the David and Goliath metaphor again last night, at the courthouse, after the Marting-Adelphia scam went down to defeat.
Switzer's Acer in the Hole
In that Biblical metaphor, David’s slingshot is technology. Linda Switzer’s new miniature $350 Acer mini-computer, which she recently bought at Staples to replace her Neolithic desktop, is an electronic marvel and gives her wireless wings to travel at the speed of truth in the broadband universe. Her contributions to the Concerned Citizens Roundtable website, her ability to email and Google, will be facilitated by her digital companion, which she canoodles like a pet poodle. Yesterday, I had to upgrade my calling plan with Verizon because in the last month the calls on my cell phone had increased so much that I thought there was error in my phone bill. There wasn’t. It was just that the citizens who were opposed to the new Marting-Adelphia scam were constantly in touch with each other, and coordinating their efforts in a way they could not have back in the age of the land lines, as clunky wired telephones are now called. “Have cell phone, will travel.” Cell phones, along with computers, are a gateway to the new electronic universe, with megapixel cameras included. Excuse me for a second. My cell phone is ringing.
I’m back. After the results of last night’s election, I hope that the unctuous Art Kuhn, at the Daily Times, and the notorious motormouth Steve Hayes, at WNXT, the hired popguns of Portsmouth’s over-privileged multi-millionaires, would stop mislabeling the thousands of citizens who refused to go along with the Marting-Adelphia scam a “disgruntled minority.” Calling us a minority is a lie. In 2004, Mayor Bauer was recalled by a large margin; in May 2006, by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, voters rejected the Marting building; and in last night’s 58% to 42% defeat of the new Marting-Adelphia scam, by a margin of over a thousand votes, the concerned citizens have proved they are in the clear majority, that they are not just a disgruntled minority. Those dozen or so concerned citizens who faithfully attend City Council meetings represent many thousands more in Portsmouth’s six wards. Most of them are not radicals. Most of them are not Democrats. Most are conservative Republicans.
The multi-millionaire backers of the new Marting-Adelphia scam were defeated in spite of the enormous financial advantages they enjoyed; they were defeated in spite of the Progress Portsmouth Committee brazenly lying to the public that the $12 million (and counting) project could be paid for without raising taxes during this period of extraordinary national economic crisis.

Gampp to Return to Testify Before Commission
The PPC treasurer Michael Gampp (shown waiting to testify before the Ohio Elections Commission) and the City Auditor Trent Williams have a return date with the bi-partisan Ohio Elections Commission to answer questions about their role in PCC's violation of Ohio’s laws against untruthful political ads. (Check out a 2004 previous River Vices posting on Gampp's role in the liquidation of Travel World.) How Gampp, a bank officer and a certified public accountant, could claim that no new taxes were needed to pay for the project is hard to understand. But those lies were only a part of the PPC’s campaign of error. The fear and smear tactics that the proponents of the new Marting-Adelphia scam engaged in included a widely circulated anonymous email accusing me of being an atheist homosexual cult leader who was part of a cabal that was trying to take over city government. That anonymous email (I think I can tell by the style who the author might be) was transmitted by a Scioto County employee over a computer in the office of a County Commissioner. As for my religious beliefs, what I will confess is that I am a recovering ex-Catholic who is still deeply influenced by a sense of Catholic guilt. If I believe in nothing else about the Catholic religion, I believe in penance. I sometimes feel that living in Portsmouth is my penance, my expiation, my punishment for my sins. I have hopes that I am in the last stage of that penance, that Portsmouth is my last station of the cross. As if coming from a large (16) family of alcoholic Catholics was not punishment enough, I ended up in a city that has the likes of Jim Kalb as mayor, Howard Baughman as President of Council, David Malone as Vice President of Council, Mike Mearan as my Ward One councilman, Austin Keyser as the head of the Shawnee Labor Council, and Terry Ockerman as the designated dirty tricks expert. That would be enough to drive anyone to drink.
Last night, in a post-election interview with Frank Lewis, a reporter for the Portsmouth Daily Times, Harold Daub began by saying, in spite of what people have been told, that he really loves Portsmouth. It’s because he loves Portsmouth that he wants so hard to reclaim it from the crooks who now control it. (Lewis did not mention Daub’s love of Portsmouth in the long report in today’s Daily Times.) I can’t say I love Portsmouth. You have to grow up in a place to really love it, and I was not lucky (or unlucky) enough to have grown up in Portsmouth. But I tremendously admire those who did and who still love it enough to oppose the drugs and the prostitution, the taxes and the corruption, the pork and the property scams like the Marting and Adelphia buildings. Those who love Portsmouth enough to fight for it are my heroes. I admire the concerned citizens who struggle constantly against the enemies of progress, against those multi-millionaires who have the chutzpah to form a political action committee and call it Progress Portsmouth. Progress Portsmouth! Last night’s election was true progress, my friends, and the blogosphere helped the concerned citizens make that progress possible.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lies! Lies! Lies!

The recent history of the Marting building and the so-called Adelphia property is steeped in lies and corruption. The original sale of the Marting building to the city was ruled invalid by the courts and the city got stuck with the Adelphia property through the connivance of lawyer-councilman Michael Mearan, who was involved in a clear conflict of interest in the city’s acquisition of the worthless property. The citizens of Portsmouth were scammed in both instances. If the city is going to spend at least $12 million for public buildings during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it should not have to do it by renovating unmarketable property that was unloaded on it by crooked lawyers.

It comes down to this on the weekend before Tuesday, November 4: Is the Progress Portsmouth Committee (PPC) going to get away with the lies it has been telling about the Marting and Adelphia property for months? In a short period of time, the acronym PPC has acquired a notoriety that it took the SOGP years to attain. The PPC has falsely claimed that the city is not going to raise property taxes for the renovation of the Marting building and for a new jail and courthouse on the Adelphia property. The PPC has lied and continues to lie that the $12 million dollar price tag for the project will not require an increase in taxes. A postcard mailed weeks ago by the PPC said, “Your vote WILL increase the value of our City, NOT your taxes.”

Fire Truck as Trojan Horse

The PPC continues to repeat this lie in campaign literature and radio spots, and it has been abetted in its campaign of prevarication by the managing editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times, Arthur Kuhn, who claims it is not an increase, and by our math-challenged city councilman David Malone, who read a prepared statement at the end of the October 27 city council meeting that insisted the 3.8 was not an increase but rather an “extension” of present taxes. An extension! The present 2008 Portsmouth property tax is .7 mills. How can a 440% 30-year increase from .7 to 3.8 mills not be an increase? (No one is fooled by the fire truck that the PPC is using as a Trojan horse by which the crooks are attempting to smuggle the 440% increase into the budget.) If the voters reject the City Center/Justice Center on November 4, that increase will NOT take place. Ipso facto, if the voters pass the measure, the increase will take place. A tax increase is a tax increase is a tax increase, to reword Gertrude Stein.

The Ohio Elections Commission ruled in a preliminary hearing on October 16 that the PPC was in violation of Ohio’s campaign laws by falsely claiming there was no increase in taxes. An official, bi-partisan body, the Elections Commission ruled against the PPC on October 16, but the lies kept coming. Just this last weekend, days before the election, the PPC delivered a flyer to Portsmouth homes posing the question “Will my taxes go up?” It answered with a blunt, bald-faced lie: “No.”

The Prosperity Portsmouth Committee has managed to put off the final reckoning for its lying until after the election. Michael Gampp, a certified public accountant and the treasurer of the PPC, will have to explain, under oath, before the Elections Commission, why and how the $12 million dollar, 30-year levy is not an increase. He should be asked by the Elections Commission by what principle of accounting is that not an increase? Section 54, Article III of the American Institute of Public Accountants Code of Ethics states that “To maintain and broaden public confidence, members should perform all professional responsibilities with the highest sense of integrity.”

Integrity is the first requisite of a CPA, but Gampp will probably not be known for integrity after the lies the PPC has been telling. Son of a former SSU employee of good repute, Gampp has besmirched the family name. Whom hasn’t Clayton Johnson dragged down into the immoral morass he has made of Portsmouth? And the American Savings Bank, where the junior Gampp is an officer, will sink 440% further into that morass as the most politicized bank in Portsmouth.

The most politicized bank in Portsmouth

The Reckoning

Even if as a result of the lying the City Center/Justice Center measure passes on November 4, the Marting Scam may still prove the straw that broke the camel’s back. The full legal and political consequences of that scam have not yet unfolded. The financial crisis that the city is in cannot be hidden much longer, even if it was hidden until the election. One of the poorest (and most crime-ridden) cities in the United States, Portsmouth cannot possibly be immune from the economic crisis that is gripping the rest of the country. City Auditor Trent Williams cannot continue to play footsie with the mayor and the crooks who control the city much longer.

Speaking of longer, every week that’s what Williams’ nose seems to get – longer. He is eventually going to have to own up to Portsmouth’s precarious economic condition. The strapped Portsmouth property owners can not take on this $12 million dollar debt without having their backs broken, like the proverbial camel, and then there might be a reckoning for all the lying.

Auditor Williams: Playing footsie with the crooks?