I didn’t believe it for a minute, but I heard recently that when Portsmouth lawyer Clayton Johnson enters the Second Presbyterian Church, the organist plays the theme from The Godfather. If it’s only a joke, it tells you something that it’s making the rounds this Christmas season.
Yes, this is the Christmas season and in that spirit I think a more appropriate analogy would be not Vito Corleone, the Godfather, but Ebenezer Scrooge, Esq., the Lawyer. Not once but twice, first in 1980 and again in 2010, the citizens of Portsmouth have been screwed by Ebenezer Scrooge, who manipulated the latitude afforded him by Portsmouth’s Home Rule charter to help remove duly elected members of local government who would not go along with the corruption-as-usual policy; it was Scrooge who saw that the council members were replaced with tools and lapdogs eager to serve the interests of the multimillionaire clique who control Portsmouth economically and politically.
In 1980 members of the Portsmouth City Council were recalled because they allegedly opposed the building of a shopping mall that would have restored prosperity, almost magically, to the city. What does it say about any city whose sustaining, redemptive myth, whose last hope, is a mall? In 2010 it is Mayor Jane Murray who has been recalled from office because of high crimes and misdemeanors, the most notorious of which was firing three unelected white male political hacks on her first day in office. To fire three political hacks on her first day in office created a firestorm the flames of which the fink at the Times and the Motormouth at WNXT never stopped fanning. (The fink at the Times, incidentally, was reportedly doing the same thing back in the 1980s on the radio, at WPAY.) Behind the recall of Mayor Murray and those council members and pulling the strings and calling the recall shots, in my opinion, was none other than the same Ebenezer Scrooge, Esq. In support of my opinion that Scrooge was behind the recall of Murray, I cannot forget that infamous lunch Scrooge had at a local restaurant, as overheard and reported by Teresa Mollette, where he boasted to an out of town visitor about how the recalcitrant council members had been recalled from office back in 1980 and how something like that had to be done again to rid the city government of troublemakers.
And Scrooge did it again and Jane Murray is gone and in her place is somebody who had run for mayor twice and been soundly rejected by the voters, namely David Malone, a man who by every conceivable criteria is unfit for the office. The only reason Scrooge has engineered Malone’s ascension to the mayor’s office is that Malone will try do what Jim Kalb tried and failed to do as mayor, which is move city government out of the Municipal Building and into the now notorious Marting building. As it stands, leaks and rots, the Marting building represents the biggest, most scandalous, and costliest failure in Scrooge’s career, costliest not in terms of money but in terms of reputation. If Scrooge has one more goal in his career it is probably to try and remove the stigma of Marting from his resumé by converting the building into a showplace rather than a reminder, as is now the case of Portsmouth’s stupendous drug problem. Marting’s display windows now serve as a display case for the county’s drug casualties. That is what Portsmouth now has to offer young people: death at an early age from overdosing. More of our young people die from overdosing than in automobile accidents. Just yesterday, a few days before Christmas, the Associated Press reported that one in ten children born in Scioto County and Portsmouth are born addicted. Is it so surprising that this is the case in a city in which Charles Horner is still chief of police, the same Charles Hornrer whose son was dealing drugs in Damon’s Restaurant, directly across the street from the police station, the same son who is still being shown preferential treatment by the Portsmouth police department, from what I’ve heard. And it is Jane Murray, not Horner, who is out in the cold!
The lasting failure of Jane Murray may be that Horner was not one of those she fired her first day in office. The last three mayors have wanted to fire Horner, and they are history and there he is still playing J. Edgar Hoover, with his snooping and intimidation. On his watch, Portsmouth has become notorious nationally for drugs and crime. Would Horner still be chief without the complicity of Scrooge? I don’t think so. And could a drug dealing pimp have been appointed (appointed not elected) to the city council, without at least the tacit approval of Ebenezer Scrooge, Esq.? I don’t think so.
Scrooge is not somebody you would want to buy a used car from or a used house, either, because inevitably you will get screwed. I lived across from Scrooge’s house, which is located at the northwest corner of Fourth and Washington Street for more than a decade, and in that time I saw how reluctant Scrooge was to spend a dime on the upkeep of that historic residence. Since he sold it to a doctor for $445,000 in 2009, not a week has gone by that the vans of plumbers, electricians, heating and cooling specialists, tree surgeons, et cetera, have not been parked outside, sometimes for a week or more at a time. and sometimes more than one at a time. What the doctor may have discovered was that he had bought the equivalent of Edgar Alan Poe’s the House of Usher, the fall of which he presumably had to spend considerable sums of money to prevent. The huge rotting trees at the corner of Fourth and Washington Streets were a hazard for at least the last ten years, with large limbs falling down on the street corner in windy weather. I avoided walking on Scrooge’s side of the street not just because of the tree, but because of the thousands of starlings who congregated in the rotting trees and whose droppings gave a certain Jackson Pollock-paint dripping character to the sidewalks below. The doctor would not know it, but he owes some thanks to the residents in the neighborhood of the House of Usher, because it was they who complained several years ago that the city was notifying them that they had to repair the sidewalks outside their homes while Scrooge’s sidewalks, as bad as any in the neighborhood, were allowed to deteriorate year after year with no notices from the city. The streets targeted by Larry Justice were marked with fluorescent orange paint, just to remind home owners they were on the city’s hit list. If Justice had marked Scrooge's house with fluorescent paint, it would have looked liked the photo above. And if you think that political critics of Mayor Kalb were not singled out for fluorescent shenanigans, just ask Harald Daub, one of the council members who was recalled in 1980 and whom Scrooge singled out for special mention in his boastful luncheon.
When I called attention to the sidewalk shenanigans in River Vices and Austin Leedom did on the Sentinel website, it was not long afterwards that Scrooge’s sidewalks were repaired by Neal Hatcher’s construction company. It was during those major sidewalk repairs that Hatcher gave me the finger, a gesture I managed to capture for posterity and which might make a suitable illustration for a Scrooge-like Christmas card. If somebody has not already done it, I think I will create a Scrooge Line of Christmas Cards, of which the following would be the inaugural number.
In Dicken’s Christmas Carol, Scrooge undergoes a religious conversion. Scrooge awakens Christmas morning a new man, with a heart filled with love and compassion, with joy and generosity. He even sends a prize turkey to the poor Cratchits for their Christmas dinner. It would be a miracle, but if Portsmouth’s Scrooge were born again, how wonderful it might be for the city. The taxpayers of Portsmouth, with the city on the verge of bankruptcy, cannot afford to renovate and then maintain the large Marting building. Public monies would be much better spent on renovating the Muncipal building or erecting a new building on the site, if the money was available, which it isn’t.
Nothing would be more Christian than if Scrooge were to donate five or six of his millions to renovate the Marting building into new city offices. The building could even be named after him, insuring that posterity would remember him not as an unscrupulous skinflint who corrupted a city but as a beloved philanthropist and benefactor. The unnamed developers who covet the land the Municipal Building now occupies could purchase it at a fair price, and develop whatever they have had in mind for the site. But that’s a dream. The reality is our Scrooge will much more likely use David Malone to screw the citizens of Portsmouth by making them pay for the renovation of Marting’s. Spite not charity would be the motive of such a course of action, and the Marting building would be a turkey but far from the prize one Scrooge gives to the Crachits. Still, this is the season of miracles and all of us are encouraged to believe. What is that music I hear in the background? Is it a Christmas carol or is it the theme from The Godfather?