Monday, September 27, 2010

From the Ku Klux Klan to the Ku Klutz Klan

The Grand Klutz

What does the Portsmouth mayoral election way back in 1923 have to do with the current effort to recall Mayor Murray? Another way to pose that question is, What does the Ku Klux Klan have  to do with the  Ku Klutz Klan, or the Grand Dragon with the Grand Klutz?” 

The Ku Klux Klan

In the fall of 1923 the incumbent, relatively young Mayor of Portsmouth, William N. Gableman, was running for a third two-year term. He had the endorsement of the Portsmouth Daily Times (PDT) which praised him for restoring the city to fiscal stability. His commendable handling of the city’s budget was  all the more impressive  because he  was opposed every step of the way, the PDT  reported,  by the  City Council, which  wanted to return to the  previous spoils system under which people were rewarded  with city jobs and contracts for their  political support.

How did the Ku Klux Klan figure in the 1923 election? Not long before the election the Klan  had applied to Mayor Gableman for a permit to  march to the cornerstone laying of the First Lutheran Church, at the corner of Grandview and Grant Street. The  Klansmen wanted to march to show their support for a new white Protestant church. If it had been  a new black church or a new Jewish temple, the Klan might have marched in protest. There was no indication in the news reports that the Lutherans had invited or would welcome the  Klan.  What the Klan  hoped to get by marching to the First Lutheran Church was some respect,  such as the Masons got when they marched to cornerstone laying ceremonies for public buildings. But like other  public officials at the local, state and national level,  Gableman considered the Klan to be an un-American organization that preached hatred and practiced violence, and he did not want to lend them legitimacy by granting them a permit to parade through the streets of Portsmouth in the ghostly hoods and robes that the Klan had  adopted during Reconstruction to frighten Negroes.

The  Ku Klux Klan  wanted to march to the First Lutheran Church in 1923

By the 1920s the Klan had become a powerful political force in Portsmouth and in many other cities in Ohio and across the nation.  The Invisible Nation, as the Klan  was then known, was at its pernicious peak in the decade, capitalizing on whites fears   of blacks.   In denying  the Klan a marching permit, Gableman incurred the  wrath of the Klan and their sympathizers in Portsmouth.  It is also possible the Klan and others spread the rumor that Gableman was Jewish, which he wasn’t:  he was Presbyterian. Whether or not anti-Semitism was a factor in the election, racism definitely was, and  Gableman lost  by an almost two to one margin. The Klan was victorious in   Portsmouth, Youngstown, Cleveland and other  Ohio cities,  as well as in states as far away as Oregon.   On the day after the election the PDT reported on the front page, “Ku Klux Klan Generally Victorious.” 

Remnants of the Ku Klux Klan are still in Portsmouth.  As recently as 1994, an estimated 400 people attended a KKK rally behind the Municipal Building. But the rally was a far cry from the 1920s. Of the estimated 400, some attended the rally  out of curiosity; some out of opposition to the KKK; but only  a small minority because they liked  the KKK’s message that only White Supremacy can save America.

 Ku Klux Klan Rally: Portsmouth, May 1994

Ku Klutz Klan

We know what the Ku Klux Klan is, but what is  the Ku Klutz Klan? Klutz is a  Yiddish word meaning a clumsy and stupid person. By the Ku Klutz Klan I mean those incompetent and intellectually challenged individuals, obvious failures in their chosen trades or professions,  who have gotten  elected or appointed to city government in the last thirty years or so,  and who, acting as the political puppets of the wealthy clique that controls the city economically and politically, have criminally misgoverned  Portsmouth and brought it to the verge of bankruptcy. The latest estimates from the mayor’s office is that Portsmouth  could be in a $5 million deficit by next year, leading the state to declare the city in a fiscal emergency and put it in virtual receivership, as it has already the county.

The Ku Klutz Klan includes the last two mayors, the failed businessman Greg Bauer and  the failed  grocery clerk, the clueless Jim Kalb, who was the reigning Grand Klutz prior to finishing third in the last mayoral election. The ranks of the Ku Klutz Klan also include, from my perspective,   City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh, whose husband Roy was a member of the Ku Klux Klan;  City Auditor Trent Williams, CPFA; Police Chief Charles Horner; City Solicitor Michael Jones; Ward Five councilman John  Haas; Ward Three councilman Nicholas Basham; recalled council woman Carol Caudil;  former indicted City Auditor Tom Bihl;  and current county  employee Larry Mullins, the sometime backup  to WNXT Motormouth Steve Hayes. The Ku Klutz Klan has diehard supporters outside of city government, such as Tim Arms, proprietor of the Ye Olde Lantern Restaurant; the kooky Ku Klutz  Karaoke Queen Sue Lonney who ignores Kroger’s no soliciting rule by pressuring elderly women in the parking lot to sign her   petitions; and of course the ex-mayor’s wife, who regularly receives a check from the state for a psychiatric disability, “crazy money,” as it is sometimes called, which makes doubly ironic the sobriquet that the  Ku Klutz Klan has come up with for  the gainfully employed Mayor Murray: Crazy Jane.

Determined to save America from Negroes and mongrel immigrants, the Ku Klux Klan targeted “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans,” to quote the 1978 letter the Grand Dragon of  the Ku Klux Klan sent to Jo Ann Aeh’s  husband Roy,  welcoming him to the brotherhood.  Determined to “Save Our City,” urged not to be “screwed by strangers,” the Ku Klutz Klan targets Concerned Citizens, “domestic terrorists,” gays,  CAVE People, and the first female mayor of Portsmouth. The feelings of the Ku Klutz Klan are complex, including economic, social, and sexual anxieties that were bluntly summed up in the yard sign that warned during last fall’s mayoral campaign,  “Don’t be Screwed by a Stranger.” The corollary of that sign would be one that said,  “Keep It in the Family.” All the klutzes in the county are currently collectively engaged in an attempt to recall Murray for taking on   Portsmouth’s corrupt, incestuous political culture and for sounding the alarm about the possible impending financial implosion, an implosion  Tom Bihl laid the groundwork for  as City Auditor when he began  a system of borrowing-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul bookkeeping. 

 Totaled Recall

 Bihl is the klutz who, when he was chief of police, totaled two parked vehicles on Offnere Street and badly damaged a third before he was whisked away by two officers on the force without being given a breathalyzer test. The Scioto County Board of Elections on September 7 invalidated Bihl’s first petition drive, no pun intended. Having, in effect, totaled one petition drive,  Bihl is now working on totaling a second. It makes you wonder if  the Board of Elections should  give a breathalyzer to those taking out petitions, particularly since those involved  spend so much time drinking at Dickens Pub and the Lantern Restaurant. Maybe it would save the taxpayers of Portsmouth  money if Bihl was given a breathalyzer before he did anything. This second petition drive, in the unlikely event it is successful, will require a special election for which the  taxpayers will foot the bill.  As a klutz whose foot doesn't know the difference between  a clutch and a brake, Bihl's motto could be, “Damn the deficits! Full speed ahead!

The Recall Murray campaign is being fueled by alcohol, with Basham providing drinks at half price  to city employees and Tim Arms reportedly fueling the petition drive with alcohol at the Lantern. It is fitting  that the campaign headquarters of Bihl’s Recall Murray campaign  is  Basham’s bar, but  booze is not the  antidote for Portsmouth’s  notorious drug problems. The war on drugs is not going to be won by half-intoxicated, half-assed  klutzes.

The Ku Klutz Klan has gotten not one but two permits for public rallies. The most recent rally, the second of its kind, was held at Tracy Park.  The weather was great but the rally fizzled, as will the attempt to recall Murray if it ever gets on the ballot. Whatever mistakes Murray has made, and whatever her limitations may be, she is not a klutz, as she proved in the successful race she ran for mayor against two klutzes,  and as she will continue to prove as Portsmouth’s day of fiscal reckoning approaches. The Ku Klux Klan succeeded in defeating Mayor Gableman in 1923, but I predict the Ku Klutz Klan will not succeed in defeating Mayor Murray,  because she’s an intelligent tough lady and this is 2010, not 1923.

Having fun at the fizzled Ku Klutz Klan rally at Tracy Park,
with Bihl holding a paper and the kooky Karaoke Queen to his left.