Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Mayor, the Mogul, and the Municipal Building

Among the many reasons for those who go to the polls next Tuesday to vote against Mayor Kalb is his long-standing neglect and denigration of Portsmouth’s Municipal Building. Kalb claims the building is in such poor shape because it was built shoddily by the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, during the Great Depression. Ignorant and uneducated as he is, if Kalb had used his computer he could have easily checked on some facts of history and learned that the Works Progress Administration was not created until 1935, a year after the Municipal Building was built. And if he dug deeper into the history of building that houses the mayor’s office that he does his best to avoid (he was not at last night’s city council meeting, for example), he would have learned that the Municipal Building was conceived and designed before the Crash of 1929 and before the Depression, and that it was built not by the government but by a private contractor. It is typical of apologists for unregulated capitalism to denigrate everything associated with government, and the repudiation of the WPA is part of that pattern, but we can be sure that Kalb is incapable of appreciating that the Portsmouth Post Office was the creation of the federal government and that the Clarence Carter murals inside it would not exist if it had not been for the Federal Art Project sponsored by the WPA.

Instead of educating himself about the history and culture of his hometown with the help of his computer, Kalb uses it to write middle-of-the-night emails that embarrass himself and the city, and not just in Ohio but throughout the nation. Judging by the 120,000 hits River Vices got in a couple of days in response to Kalb’s email, I think there will be at least a little curiosity across the country next Tuesday about how the redneck Ohio mayor who wrote the infamous foul-mouthed email fared in his reelection bid.

It is no secret, as Mayor Kalb himself has admitted, that for at least a decade there has been a developer he would not name who wants to acquire the land under the Municipal Building. Kalb would not name the developer, but I would be surprised if Hatcher will not be involved somehow. In Portsmouth, when it comes to developers, no one comes close to owning as much property and having as much political clout as Neal Hatcher, and no developer has as bad a reputation. In addition to being called a worthless piece of shit by the mayor for having criticized his performance as mayor, I have been given the finger by our real estate mogul for the exposés I have posted in River Vices about his real estate rip-offs and sweetheart deals with the city and university. Portsmouth is not a Hooverville but a Hatcherville in which home owners get "Hatchered."

Real estate developer gives me the finger

I find something refreshingly honest in the undisguised contempt Hatcher has for anyone who doesn’t share his obsession with property and money. The matching bookend to our mayor, Hatcher is a redneck Citizen Kane without the sentimentality about a sled. Having been Hatcher’s lapdog for at least a decade, one of Kalb’s goals as president of the city council and as mayor has been to raze the Municipal Building and make the land under it available to a developer.

The land under the Municipal Building is, Kalb has claimed, “prime real estate.” Not only does Kalb not know when the WPA was created, he apparently doesn’t know there is no prime real estate in downtown Portsmouth. Has he failed to notice that the Ramada Inn, right across from the Municipal Building, has been a basket case economically almost from the time it was built? Does Kalb expect anyone to believe that the land right across the street from the Ramada is prime real estate? The Portsmouth Ramada has been dubbed “Queen of the Rust Belt” by one travel writer. Land directly across the street from it could become prime real estate only if and when casino gambling comes to the Portsmouth area. That is what Hatcher or whichever developer acquires that land will be betting on. But making a killing on gambling is now far from being a sure bet. There was a story in the New York Times last week, “Can Atlantic City Raise the Stakes?” about the sorry state of Atlantic City, the first American city, after Las Vegas, to base its economy almost completely on legalized gambling. If Portsmouth manages to get on the gambling bandwagon, it will be doing so just when that bandwagon is driving into a ditch.

To justify razing the Municipal Building, Kalb and his predecessors have deliberately neglected it until it may have reached the point where it is not salvageable, even though it is about the same age and made of similar material and done in a similar style as the Portsmouth U.S. Post Office, which is a municipal architectural treasure, especially with the Clarence Carter murals inside. The Municipal Building is no Taj Mahal, but it is architecturally important, reflecting the Art Nouveau style that had become popular earlier in the twentieth century. But it won’t be long before the building will be demolished by a wrecking ball as so many other architecturally important buildings in Portsmouth were, like the train station, which was the Parthenon of Portsmouth. The city could have bought the station from the railroad for a dollar, but the county bought it instead, razed it, and built a new county jail on the site.

In the New York Times today (27 Oct. 2009) columnist Bob Herbert wrote, "The nation's political leaders and their corporate puppet masters have fouled this nation up to a fare-thee-well. We will not be pulled from the morass without a big effort from an active citizenry, and that means a citizenry fired with a sense of mission and the belief that their actions, in concert with others, can make a profound difference." What Herbert says about our nation's leaders also applies to our local leaders and our local citizenry. Government is too important to be left to the politicians, and to a mayor like Kalb, who is the puppet of the rich and the powerful.

Be sure to go to the polls and vote next Tuesday.