Thursday, April 30, 2015

All Aboard to Go Backwards!

The crooked conductor on the Twentieth Century Ltd. 

All Aboard for those wanting to go backwards! 
Be sure to vote for the tax increase on Tuesday's 
May 5th election so that we can continue
the same corrupt city government that has got us
in the financial mess we're now in 
and the municipal unions, the police and fire
in particular can continue to dictate fiscal policy
for the city which cannot reduce the number
of police and fire employees because they got
the corrupt politicians to add to the city charter
an amendment that prevents the city government 
from reducing their number even though the city
now has less than half the population it once had.

All aboard! All aboard! Vote to provide
the city government with  millions of dollars
more to misspend on projects like Ameresco  
and  to pay inflated prices for worthless buildings 
such as Marting's and New Century Cable
which have sat empty, rotting, for over
a decade while bankrupt failed businessmen
and lawyers get appointed and elected to public office
where they tell the public to vote for tax increases
so that a failed proprietor of an antique store
can get the city government changed to city manager
so that he can be the acting acting mayor
and tell others how to run the city 
when he was a failure as an antiques store
proprietor who wasn't able to provide  
the city with so much as an antique pot to piss in. 

All aboard! All aboard! Get on the express
train backward to hell, the Twentieth Century Limited,
which  makes stops at the Marting's and the New Century buildings
but avoids Grandview Avenue because of the periodic 
flooding that is the result of city mismanagement.

All aboard! All aboard! Those of you making $50,000
a year will only have to pay an additional $250 in taxes
and those of you making a mean family income
of $23,000 will have to pay even less and those 
who are unemployed or homeless won't have to pay nothing.

So get aboard. The train will be backing out of the station
next Tuesday, May 5th, and if you vote for the increase
we will be backing up to the Twentieth Century, 
maybe as far back as the 1950s when Marting's
was doing a bustling business, when we had a city manager,
and when the Counseling Center did not exist 
and was not attracting thousands of prostitutes 
and drug addicts to Portsmouth and Ike was in the White House.

Below is the business, an upscale antique shop,
that our acting acting mayor and his partner
opened in Portsmouth, which was like opening
a tattoo parlor next to a nunnery in Nebraska.
It didn't make much business sense, which may be why
he  campaigned to bring gambling to Portsmouth,
because high rollers might have frequented
an upscale antique shop, whereas the unemployed
and street people are not into upscale antiques.
Like other business failures, the proprietor
went into politics, where he now presumes
to know just how to run the city,
only instead of peddling upscale antiques
and gambling on the future of Portsmouth
he is now advocating increasing taxes
and urging everybody to get on board
because the train on which he is the conductor
will be backing out of the station next Tuesday
and you better be on board if you don't want
to be left behind and miss those $50,000 a year
jobs for which you'll only have to pay $250
a year in taxes. ALL ABOARD! ALL ABOARD!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Julia Marlowe: The Tomboy and the Lady

The hefty Marlowe as a girl playing
 a boy in Twelfth Night
Marlowe playing Rosalind posing
as a male in As You Like It

The actress Julia Marlowe was a contradiction,  a mixture of the tomboy and  Lady. What follows is a brief blank verse biography focusing on her split personality.

A mixture of tomboy and Lady,
she most often played females on the stage,
Juliet Capulet in particular,
but she played males occasionally—
the mad young poet Thomas Chatterton,
the fictional Sir Joseph Porter
of the farce The Pirates of Penzance.
She also played females posing as  males—
including sweet Viola in Twelfth Night
the fair Rosalind in As You Like It,
and the doomed Joan in  PĆ©guy's Jeanne d'Arc.
It is well known Joan was burned at the stake
but not that it was for cross-dressing,
a heresy in the Church's view.
In Jeanne d'Arc Marlowe wore a suit of armor
and again in one of Shakespeare's histories
and around the house to get used to it,
which was odd but no longer heretical.

Had she never left England she probably
would not have risen above the low station
her family had occupied socially
in the north, near the border with Scotland,
before her father dragged them to Kansas
where he changed their name from Frost to Brough
(his mother’s maiden name, which rhymed with rough)
to escape from an imaginary 
prosecution, and with his wife’s savings
this footloose Brit bootmaker bought a farm
about thirty miles west of Kansas City
in pursuit of his American dream.
But all it took to kill that foolish scheme
and convince him he had made a mistake
was one long winter in his underwear
in the unforgiving plains of Kansas.
So he dragged his family, including
his daughter Fanny, as she was nicknamed,
back east to the so-called Buckeye State, 
to Ohio, to the shoe capital 
of America, to the river city 
of Portsmouth, across from Kentucky,
to what is now 425 Front Street,
with not one but two charming balconies
on which “Julia” might have been born
on a moonlit evening in mid-summer.
Depicted on a Floodwall mural, the simpering portrait of
Marlowe next to 425 Front St.

The building still stands fondly on Front Street,
the same one where Fanny's father did his soft
shoe number, skipping in and out of town
when it suited him, leaving his poor wife
to make the best of a bad situation,
which she did by taking in boarders.
Much later a schoolmate recalled Fanny
had been an unabashed red-haired tomboy, 
and Fanny herself recalled she got girls
to play hooky from school to go hiking
in the fall when the leaves were turning
colors in the woods surrounding Portsmouth.
That was the only pleasant memory
she could recall from what she called her
“miserable" and nomadic childhood.

After moving on to Cincinnati,
where she ran yet another boarding house,
her mother decided she had had enough
of her cad husband, so she divorced him
and married a German baker named Hess,
whom her children, including Fanny,
the future Julia, found  "loathsome."
But at least there was bread on the table.

From her dull, miserable existence,
Fanny the tomboy first found her escape
in play acting, becoming at the age
of thirteen, the character Sir Joseph Porter,
the First Lord of the Admiralty 
in one of the all-children productions 
of the Gilbert and Sullivan musical,
the smash hit H.M.S. Pinafore,
in which, with what was called a "golden voice,"
she sang the team's comical arias. 
Being a tomboy, the role suited her 
it could be said like a sailor to the sea, 
having already acquired her sea legs
when she crossed the Atlantic as a tot.

Pinafore satirizes the snobbery
of England’s rigid class system
in which the lowly got the royal shaft, 
but satire and social criticism, 
radical politics of any kind, 
did not interest the budding thespian.
Instead, the immortal bard, Shakespeare,
the native son of her birthplace, England,
became her ideal, her idol, her god.

From Gilbert and Sullivan, Julia,
as she was  “new baptized,” graduated 
to Romeo and Juliet, not as
Juliet but as Romeo’s servant  
and companion, the faithful Balthasar.
He was one of a number of males 
she would play, reversing the tradition
in which adolescent boys played women 
on the unisex Elizabethan stage.

When she became very serious about
being a thespian, and her acting career,
the name she chose, Julia Marlowe,
was all-Elizabethan: Julia, like Juliet,
and Marlowe, Shakespeare’s contemporary.
Among playwrights the Bard was the monarch
the brilliant master of all he conveyed
and to him she swore her fealty.

What Shakespeare stood for in America,
with its lack of taste, tact, and manners,
was Culture, with a capital C. 
By embracing bardolatry
like an anglophile religion, 
she was able to rise above
her lower class American station.
She lacked not only background and breeding
but also a high school education,
which she tried to make up for
by acting more British than the British.

Her American dream was to be not
American but consummately English.
Her course of study was limited to
the King’s grandiloquently spoken English—
enunciation and elocution—
with lessons thrown in on grooming and posture.
How one carried oneself in public
and on the stage was crucial to success.
To be stoop shouldered, chin down, or drag ass,
was for a lady impermissible.
She once caught a glimpse of her behind
accidentally in a large mirror. 
“She was startled by the ugly movement 
of her hips,” a biographer wrote, 
“so she determined to correct the fault. 
At the time she was passing the summer 
on the [New] Jersey coast; and early 
every morning she paced the shore 
with her hands pressing down on her hips, 
till she had remedied the fault.”
Were those "ugly" hips a reminder she was
a woman, a member of the weaker sex,
which she tried to suppress by pressing
repeatedly down on those ugly hips?
There was  nothing she couldn’t do once she
singlemindedly decided to do it,
even making her behind behave better,
as befitted a Shakespearean actress.

She made her fortune not in Shakespeare's plays—
from them she got respect and adulation—
but plays like When Knighthood was in Flower,
pure American romantic claptrap. 
As she grew older and wealthier,
Marlowe grew more and more to resemble
the aristocrat she had wanted to be
when she was a poor girl
living on the riverfront in Portsmouth.
With enough money to be charitable,
she helped out the less fortunate with whom, 
though not eager to admit it, she felt
a bond, a close identification.

Not burned at the stake like cross-dressing Joan,
she went out philanthropically in
a sunset blaze of noblesse oblige,
her mail armor, much like her male ardor,
rusting in a closet along with gowns
and gewgaws she had used on stage
when she pretended to be "the lady."
The gowns as well as the mail armor
ended up in Portsmouth, gathering dust
in the 1810 House while the male armor,
if not amour propre, like Banquo's ghost,
haunts the banquets of the straight shooters.

Shakespeare in the U.S.  in the 1800s
was something of a racket, fleecing folks
who wanted to get a bit more culture
like those rubes in Huckleberry Finn
who get taken in by the "King" and "Duke,"
who exploited the craze for things British
of which Shakespeare was the ne plus ultra.
Marlowe and Sothern may have been the best
in their trade, but today they sound like
a straight-faced sketch on Saturday Night Live 
lampooning bombastic bardolatry,
which you can eavesdrop on by clicking here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Feldman's Legacy

[For the light it throws on the current city manager's role in Portsmouth, I am reposting an article  from 2005 on former city manager Barry Feldman, who was fired and then rehired after the councilmen who fired him were recalled. Feldman went on to write a Ph.D. dissertation on the city manager form of government at the University of Connecticut.  One of his very important conclusions was that city managers must abandon the idea that they can function effectively by being non-political. That was the ideal on which the city manager form of government was founded--that the chief executive in city government should be non-political. If there are cities  where that ideal can be a reality, Portsmouth is definitely  not one of them. Derek Allen showed  almost immediately when he became city manager that he will be politically active and he couldn't survive if he wasn't. As city manager, he is in an untenable position, because his survival depends upon the support of a majority of the council. Just as the city council hired him, they can fire him. He is a better politician and more intelligent than most of the council and he can continue as city manager, but only as long as he has the support of the majority of council. Politics being what politics are, that support will not always be there. He has a six-shooter, but that sixshooter has no bullets, and no matter how much faster he might be on the draw than anyone else on the city council, the dumbest and slowest of them, when they are a majority, can get rid of him because they do have the bullets, constitutionally speaking.  Feldman was one of the smartest city managers Portsmouth ever had, but he got out as soon as he could because he knew the politics of Portsmouth was like Ebola and as smart and political as he was, he didn't have immunity.]

Feldman after being suspended by City Council

     The 1980 newspaper photo above shows Barry Marvin Feldman after he was suspended by the Portsmouth City Council. Feldman was Portsmouth’s city manager for 4 1/2 years, from Jan. 1977 to August 1981. Prior to coming to Portsmouth, he had been city manager in Lincoln Heights, a small, troubled community north of Cincinnati. He had been city manager of Lincoln Heights for only seven months, from April to November of 1975, but for some reason, somebody in Portsmouth thought he was qualified to be city manager of our much larger, much more politically volatile, river city.
     Feldman’s turbulent tenure as city manager illustrates two important lessons about Portsmouth's past. First, he proved that the head of any public agency or institution in Portsmouth – whether it be city manager, mayor, or president of Shawnee State University (think of Clive Veri)– no matter how inexperienced, unqualified, or dishonest he may be (I’m not suggesting Feldman was all three), could remain in his job just as long as he was part, or was at least willing to serve the interests of, Portsmouth’s ruling clique. Because that clique controlled the local media in 1980, and thereby monopolized the news, they controlled the public’s perception of who the good guys and the bad guys were. Right to the end, the Portsmouth Daily Times and WPAY and WNXT portrayed Feldman as a good guy, the heroic victim of three malevolent councilmen.

     Those who saw things differently didn’t have many ways of making their case publicly. Getting a letter-to-the-editor published was virtually their only hope. In a type-written draft of what appears to be an unpublished letter-to-the-editor, Andrew Clausing claimed that not long after he was first elected to the city council, in 1978, the supporters of a controversial mall project were meeting with Feldman without letting Clausing know. “Many times Mr. Feldman and his cohorts had secret meetings,” Clausing wrote, “and your First Ward councilman [Clausing himself] was not even included.” The City Solicitor Richard Schisler, obviously trying to protect Feldman, accused the City Council of firing him without just cause. Clausing claimed they had just cause: Feldman had failed as an administrator. “He is in fact a poor administrator,” Clausing wrote in the draft of his letter, “and the end result will be that you and I will suffer by paying higher taxes, more welfare and less employment.”

Making Fun of Feldman

Clever political cartoonists opposed to Feldman had to settle for passing their drawings from hand to hand, like a samizdat underground flyer in the Soviet Union. There was no chance they would be published in the Daily Times and there were no alternative publications at that time. One anonymous unpublished cartoon from 1980 shows the long-haired Feldman mauling the taxpayers of Portsmouth on behalf of Jacobs Visconti and Jacobs, the Cleveland developer.

  Feldman axing taxpayers

     In 1980, the City Council fired Feldman not once, not twice but three times, but the city solicitor and a court of common pleas judge and the Citizens for Good Government, a front for Portsmouth’s ruling clique, managed to keep Feldman in office through legal and political maneuvering. In another cartoon, Feldman and his backers are depicted as being protected from the wrath of the citizenry by the umbrella of the courts.
     In fact, the ruling clique used the media to turn the wrath of the electorate against the three councilmen and used legal maneuvering to keep Feldman in office long enough to recall the councilmen. Under the council-manager form of government, the city manager is supposed to serve at the pleasure of the council. “If the manager is not responsive to the council’s wishes, the council has authority to terminate the manager at any time,” as the Santa Ana, California, website puts it. The Ohio Supreme Court eventually ruled the City Council had the authority to fire Feldman, but by then Clausing, Daub and Price had been recalled and replaced by pro-mall council members who supported Feldman. Another cartoon shows the four council members as puppets of Feldman and the powers-that-be after the recall of three honest councilman.

Councilmen as puppets
     In spite of being fired three times, Feldman could have stayed on for another four years, had he wanted to, because he had the support of the ruling clique and the media. He had proved how far he was willing to go and how much pressure he was willing to live under to further their interests. But perhaps in the interest of himself and his family, he chose not to remain in Portsmouth any longer than it took him to find another job. He was probably smart enough to know “the Mall” had become a fiction that nobody was going to be able to turn into a reality. Feldman was in a position to know that there was about as much chance of a big mall in downtown Portsmouth as there was of a National Football League franchise returning to play in Spartan Stadium.

Feldman’s Rapport with People

     In a sympathetic article in the Daily Times on the eve of his departure for a new job as assistant city manager in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Feldman said that the thing that pleased him most about his 4 1/2 years in Portsmouth was his “rapport with people and involvement of citizens in the community.” “Involvement of citizens” was Feldman’s euphemism for parades, protests, petitions and demonstrations that took place while he was city manager. As for his “rapport with people,” there was not much evidence of that while he was city manager. While he had strong supporters among those with money and influence, many others disliked him intensely by the time he left. But he had probably never enjoyed good rapport with ordinary folk anyway. Well-groomed and coiffed, modishly dressed, with two college degrees, the pipe- smoking Feldman raised the hackles of some of the non-elite in Portsmouth, who accused him of being the vain leader of the “Mod Squad,” whose motto might have been “Have blow dryer, will travel.”
     The second lesson to be learned from Feldman’s tenure as Portsmouth’s city manager is that he was living proof that a city manager could be as much of a devious politician as any mayor or council member. No person in the twentieth century did more to sour Portsmouth on the city manager form of government than Feldman, and anybody writing a Ph.D. dissertation on the subject might study his 4 1/2 years as city manager in Portsmouth as an example of just how politically compromised a city manager can become. When the voters of Portsmouth chose to return to the mayoral form of government in 1985, after 55 years of the city manager form of government, the failure of Feldman as city manager was the best argument that the pro-mayoral advocates had going for them.

Feldman’s Mayoral Complex

     Feldman did not stay long in Michigan before he moved on in 1985 to West Hartford, Connecticut, where he has been town manager ever since. He eventually earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut, where he is an adjunct instructor. Nobody ever questioned Feldman’s intelligence, but he still occasionally shows that he suffers from a mayoral complex. He is still involved in politics and still not very good at it. A few years ago he invited a strong opponent of same-sex marriage to speak at a Martin Luther King commemoration. That invitation brought down a hail of criticism from a lesbian organization that claimed Dr. King would not have been opposed to same sex marriages. A spokesperson for People of Faith for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights told the Hartford Courant that the selection of a homophobe as keynote speaker was "an immense insult to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of West Hartford and Connecticut." Feldman pleaded ignorance, telling the Hartford Courant, “It certainly would have given me lots of reason for pause. . . . This is a very difficult issue and there's lots of sympathy all around." Feldman responded to the criticism by doing the politically correct thing: he invited a lesbian activist to speak at the same celebration. So West Hartford ended up with the two political extremists at the commemoration instead of the one moderate speaker that the occasion seemed to call for. As an administrator Feldman may know what he’s doing, but as a politician he manages to put his foot in it.

Leading a Double Life

But politician is what Feldman believes city managers have to be if they are going to be effective leaders; and politician is what Feldman has been throughout his career, as the people of Portsmouth painfully learned twenty-five years ago. If he couldn’t admit at the beginning that he was a politician, he apparently can now, as he nears the end of his career.  In the “Introduction” to his 1998 Ph.D. dissertation, “Reinventing Local Government: Beyond Rhetoric to Application,” Feldman wrote, “The successful [city] managers who have tenure in their current positions know how to lead what Stillman calls a double-life: officially neutral while in fact . . . scrambling for their share of political influence in order to achieve success for themselves and their programs” (8). Feldman believes city managers should not only implement but they should also make policy, which was what he was trying to do, secretly, in those meetings from which the president of the City Council, Andrew Clausing, claimed he was excluded. Feldman apparently tried to lead a double-life as Portsmouth’s city manager and the consequences for the city and himself were traumatic. Perhaps that is why in his otherwise thorough dissertation on the evolution of the city manager form of government never Feldman once found occasion to mention that he had been city manager in Portsmouth.
     If one of the hopes Portsmouth voters had in changing to the council-manager form of government in 1930 was to keep at least one official in city government out of politics, Feldman’s tenure as city manager a half century later dealt a death-blow to that hope, for he was up to his neck in politics, according to his critics. “We were recalled [in 1980] not because we were opposed to a downtown mall," Harold Daub, one of the recalled councilmen, told me, "but because we were opposed to the actions of the City Manager [Barry Feldman].” And because Feldman is a politician, he continues in West Hartford to be a polarizing figure who rubs some people the wrong way, as he did in Portsmouth.
     In an online Connecticut forum back in 2003, an incensed woman posted the following unflattering observation about him: “West Hartford town manager Barry Feldman crawled to a public meeting the other day. All that smarmy over inflated greasy bag of ego did was allow the attendees to admire his grasp of all things meaningless and his arrogant mouthings of whatever platitudes he assumed the great unwashed needed to hear from the top of his lofty self constructed mountain of his sweet smelling excrement.” There are those who feel he left behind a similar smelly legacy in Portsmouth. According to Greek myth, a king named Augeas had failed to clean up his stables for thirty years. It was one of Hercules’ labors to clean up the mess. Anyone looking at Portsmouth’s history for the last thirty years is faced with a similar mess, to which Barry Feldman contributed more than his odoriferous share.