"You're a numb-skull, Norton!"
I’m back. But I feel like Ed Norton of The Honeymooners returning to work after a six-month sabbatical from the sewers of Brooklyn, only in my case it’s the sewers of Portsmouth, the political as well as the backed up physical ones. It’s like nothing has changed except for some of the rats. Before, we had a drug dealing pimp on the city council, and now we have an alcohol-pushing public school teacher, and maybe that qualifies as an improvement. And the one lawyer we had on council has been replaced by another, which may not be much improvement. Think how much better this country would be if there was a constitutional amendment prohibiting lawyers from holding public office at every level of government, local, state, and national? In Portsmouth, each of the lawyers in question got on council by first being appointed by the crooked majority of the city council, the preferred way by which most of the crooks start their political careers.
The current four-year term for council members well serves the few multimillionaires that run Portsmouth, because it cuts down on elections, where there is at least the remote chance that an honest person might be elected. Traditionally, when a crooked council member is about to be recalled, as Howard Baughman was not long ago, he resigns, enabling the crooked majority on the city council to appoint another crook to replace him. That’s the way it works. When one turd is flushed down the political toilet, another one takes his place.
Baughman had been president of city council, and therefore next in line to be mayor if the then-mayor, Jim "Sleepy Kalb," were recalled or for other reasons did not finish his term. Oh, and how had Kalb become mayor? Because he had been president of city council when Mayor Bauer had been recalled for his role in the city’s purchase of the worthless Marting building, a scam that smelled so bad that nauseated voters not only recalled Bauer but also booted several other council members out of office.
What did Baughman in, what led to his resignation from council, were sewers, specifically the sewers of Grandview Avenue, where occasional heavy rains cause sewage to back up into the basements of beleaguered homeowners. Baughman's failure to deal with that problem led to a recall movement that would very likely have resulted in his being removed from office. His recall would have given the voters of his ward the opportunity not only to remove him but to choose who his replacement would be. To frustrate that exercise in democracy and to insure that the council would have somebody as compliant and complicit as himself, Baughman resigned, ever loyal to the high and mighty low-lifes whose interests he served. The lawyer John Haas was appointed to take his place.
If sewers ended Baughman’s chances of being mayor, they improved those of Jane Murray, a resident of the Grandview area who became the spokesperson and the champion of the angry homeowners, who felt they were being ignored by both the city government and by the neighboring Southern Ohio Medical Center, whose careless over-expansion they and Murray believed was the cause of their sewer problems. Maybe a more appropriate name than Grandview for the street they live and suffer on would be Effluvia Avenue.
Apparently, the crooked politicians and the sewer problems we will always have with us. Murray claims that the back up of sewage is taking place not just when it rains but also when it is dry, and that clogging waste from SOMC caused a back up in homes on Shawnee Road. Although it has agreed to install two grinders to pulverize hospital waste before it enters the city sewage system, SOMC has denied being responsible for any blockage in that system. Murray has appealed to the EPA to help resolve the problem.
In taking on the SOMC, Murray is—how else can I put it—in deep doodoo. And it doesn’t help her that the Portsmouth Daily Times is always there to insinuate and slant, and that two new members of city council are conducting the “Bash ‘em and Haasle ‘em Show,” the purpose of which is, if not to drive her crazy, at least to drive her from office. I don’t know whether Murray is a good mayor or a bad mayor. I don’t know whether she deserves to be recalled or whether she deserves a medal. But I do know from day one, and even before day one, that there were those who were determined to do everything they could to insure that she fail. In Portsmouth, it may be foolish for any man to challenge the Ole-Boy Network; it may be crazy for any woman to do so.
Kalb Caught, Not Napping, but Coughing
There was the last-place finisher Kalb in the front row of one of the first council meetings of Murray's tenure, last January, acting childishly, according to a Shawnee State reporter, coughing, coughing, coughing, making fun of Murray’s claim that she had replaced the carpet in the mayor’s office because it was making her and others ill as a result of the residue of the chain-smoking Kalb’s years in that office where, it was rumored, he would, after working hours (if that is not an oxymoron where Kalb is concerned), not so much burn the midnight oil as light up more than cigarettes. And who will ever forget the infamous 2 AM email to me in which he made an international asshole of himself. I know what a failed, incompetent mayor is like. I am not prepared to conclude that that is what Murray is. Not yet. She must be given a chance to succeed before she can be dismissed as a failure. She whipped Kalb’s ass in the election, and showed him how to run a campaign. She should be given the chance to show she knows how to run a city, even when that city is in deep financial trouble.
I don’t like the odds of her succeeding—not with the SOGP and the SOMC; not with the municipal unions; not with the Daily Times; not with Kalb and his hangers-on; not with the "Bash ‘em and Haasle ‘em Show"; not with all the rats in Portsmouth’s political sewers spewing forth their effluvia and causing back-ups in more than the basements of Effluvia Avenue. Without the rats and all, maybe Murray could succeed. Maybe I'm naive for thinking so. Maybe. “You’re a numbskull, Norton, for thinkin’ any different,” as Ralph Kramden might say to his dim-witted buddy returning from his six month sabbatical from the sewers.