Nichols's home ablaze (Photo courtesy of Moe's Forum)
I mean "fired" first in the sense of a blaze being intentionally set, as I suspect Wayne Nichols’s house on Eighth Street was yesterday. I also mean fired in the sense of someone being emphatically removed from a job, as Mayor Jim Kalb was decisively by the voters of Portsmouth, which also happened yesterday.
If Nichols had not been in jail when the fire occurred, he probably would today be under suspicion of having set the fire himself, because that’s how things work in Portsmouth, the victims being blamed for the crimes of others. Nichols will not face a judge or have opportunity for bail until next Tuesday at 10 AM, according to Nichol's sister, by which time he will have been in jail for thirteen days.
Because he was in jail, Nichols possibly did not know his house had burned, and might not have known how dirty the campaign had become during the last few days when supporters of Mayor Kalb and First Ward Councilman Mike Mearan started an anonymous blog called The Underground, which began by pretending to be against Kalb, but that was only to attract the attention that it would not have otherwise gotten. I have little doubt that one of those writing anonymously for the Underground blog is an alcoholic human virus who insinuates himself electronically into the Portsmouth body politic by parasitically taking on the appearance or coloration of his political enemies, of capitalizing on their greater name recognition. A political ally of the Kalb family, this creep started out some years ago by calling himself Look Deeper, mimicking "Doug Deepe," John Welton’s well-known pseudonym. More recently he has adopted the pseudonym River Lices, mimicking River Vices.
The Underground blog quickly morphed into a pro-Kalb political dirty tricks website that accused mayoral candidate Jane Murray of having misused a public credit card some twenty years ago when she was a public employee in Kentucky. The Underground tried to capitalize on the sexist bias against women by suggesting that political and financial chaos would follow if Murray were elected mayor, as if we are not now experiencing political and financial chaos under Kalb, who finished an ignominious third in the election. Behind a woman and a write-in candidate! I had predicted Murray would get 44% of the three-way vote, which is what she got, but I did not think Kalb would finish third, although I knew it would be a mistake to underestimate his lack of achievement.
I’m assuming that among that minority who voted for Kalb were all those husbands who do not trust their wives with credit cards. The Underground also homophobically suggested that Mike Mearan’s opponent had AIDS, a dirty trick that was followed up by another supporter of Mearan who produced an incriminating dirty-tricks flyer that purported to be from Mearan’s gay-agenda opponent. The low-lifes behind these dirty tricks could not have chosen a more appropriate name for their blog than The Underground.
But the ultimate dirty trick in this campaign was the apparent torching of Nichols’s home. A Vietnam veteran who occasionally displays signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome, Nichols has for years been a thorn in the side of city government and of Kalb in particular. When Kalb and his cronies on city council, including council president Howard Baughman, tried to restrict the rights of concerned citizens to speak before the council, Nichols was one of those they were trying to stifle. They have been harassing him for years. Not that he hasn’t broken some laws and violated city ordinances, including letting junk accumulate on his porch and yard, but if letting junk accumulate on a porch and yard is a serious crime, there are a lot of people in the city and county who would not escape hanging. Nichols’s real crime was working his tail off to insure his right to speak before council and working his tail off every election, in spite of physical disabilities, to defeat politicians and ballot measures he strongly disagrees with. Now, as the holiday season approaches, he is without his home or his van, which were completely destroyed in the fire. Will Nichols become homeless, like the mother and son Mearan cheated out of their house in Wheelersburg?
The morning after the fire, I talked to a man who lives right next to Nichols who told me he heard a loud pop just before the fire started. A loud pop? Like a Molotov cocktail shattering? No one is certain at this point who or what started the fire, and we may never be certain, if past arson investigations are any indication. Remember when those hot files in the office of realtor Ken Rase caused that building to burst into flames, in an apparent instance of spontaneous combustion? Who was the usual suspect when the Columbia Theater went up in flames? The owner, Lee Scott, who had been working heroically with his own hands for years, along with his son, to restore the theater. Fortunately, Nichols has the most airtight alibi—bar none: he was in the hoosegow. O, Portsmouth! Is there any other city in America of comparable size that can compare with you for heartbreaking tragicomedy? Only Shakespeare could do justice to this cast of characters and this comedy of errors.
The Scene of the Crime: the Morning After
That is His Honor the mayor (center) making an election-day appearance