On the eve of a crucial Portsmouth election, activist/ice cream mogul Ben Cohen interrupted his crusade against money in national politics today to weigh in on the corrosive influence of  big bucks in local politics. Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, is “Head Stamper” of the Stamp Stampede, a national push to get money out of national politics by overturning the US Supreme Court decision saying corporations are people.

rally market square w stamp out money sign

During a downtown Portsmouth stop at Book & Bar today, Portsmouth Now! cornered Cohen about its pet peeve. This blogger told Cohen that Portsmouth once had two competing daily newspapers (and competing City Hall reporters), but with only one daily paper left, the Portsmouth Herald covers some issues like a blanket (like the police financial scandal), but won’t cover others (like this summer’s City Planning Department email to a developer’s lawyer of an HDC approval decision before the HDC heard from the public or voted on it). Also in this climate, this blogger told Cohen that eight of 16 City Council candidates are being promoted by a slick, expensive-looking PR campaign, but Portsmouth voters have no idea what interests are behind it because the paper hasn’t reported on it. (Luckily, an investigative news website, is attacking the gap left by faltering dailies). Asked for a comment about the combination of a weak local daily paper and money’s influence on local politics, Cohen got a faraway look. Pensively eyeing the crowd milling between bookshelves, stamps and ice cream samples, he told Portsmouth Now!: “Our democracy is being destroyed by two things– money in politics and the fact that the media is no longer performing its watchdog role and exposing corruption– so the influence of money in politics is going on mostly in the dark.”leftist marching band majorette at rally

The Stamp Stampede and Leftist Marching Band also showed up for yesterday’s rousing rally on Financial Transparency & Open Local Government” in Market Square, along with a crowd of revved-up residents. Five City Council candidates attended on behalf of financial transparency– Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted and Duncan MacCallum, as well as two Police Commission candidates– the “two Joes,” Joe Onosko and Joe Plaia.

Transparency Candidates; City Council: Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted, Duncan MacCallum; Police Commission: Joe Plaia, Joe Onosko

Transparency Candidates; City Council: Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted, Duncan MacCallum; Police Commission: Joe Plaia, Joe Onosko (Josh Denton and Brad Lown signed transparency promises, but Lown made the same promise two years ago then broke it.)

Today, Cohen encouraged people to use a red stamp he sells at a discount with messages like “NOT 2 B USED 2 BRIBE POLITICIANS.” One person stamping five bills a day for a year will reach over a million people in 2 1/2 years, he said. With 17 states on-board to amend the Constitution to get money out, Cohen said New Hampshire (with the First-in-Nation primary) is “Ground Zero.” And people united are more powerful than entrenched big money interests, he said.

Ben Cohen leads Stamp Money Out of Politics pledge at Book & Bar in Portsmouth

Ultimately, the cure for money in politics is to give everyone in the country a $100 voucher to contribute to whatever candidate they want, Cohen said. Then he led the audience in a mock Pledge that ended: “One nation, incorruptible, with Liberty and Justice, for all.”

Here’s InDepthNH’s coverage of yesterday’s rally:

and the Herald’s:





Reacting to the financial scandal in the Police Department, a diverse, nonpartisan (real) grassroots group of concerned Portsmouth citizens came together Sunday to push for financial transparency  and disclosure across all city government and local campaign finance reform. Many participants described the rousing Market Square rally as a spontaneous, organic response to the crisis in the city.

rally market square w stamp out money sign

leftist marching band majorette at rally

All 16 Portsmouth City Council candidates were invited to the rally to promise to uphold the City Charter and push for local campaign finance reform. Of these, five City Council candidates (Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted and Duncan MacCallum and two Police Commission candidates (Joe Onosko and Joe Plaia), showed up.transparency dog at rally

Candidates who could not attend were asked to sign a promise to finally carry out the City Charter’s Conflict of Interest requirements for all city officials, fight for local campaign reform and keep big money out of local elections. Join the rally for open local government, city campaign finance reform & full financial disclosure. Only Josh Denton and Brad Lown signed.


Many residents want the financial window opened on all of Portsmouth City Government

Let's open the window and shine financial daylight on city government and on our local city elections

… and shine financial daylight on our local city elections

Amendment C of the City Charter (Portsmouth’s Constitution), requires “mandatory financial disclosure by all police, school, municipal officials, whether appointed or elected…” Shockingly, the City Council voted 5-4 last year against meaningful expansion of the city’s current limited disclosure to all city  officials, as the Charter requires. 

Organized by a growing nonpartisan collection of concerned citizens for open local government, including Julie Brillhart, Mark Brighton, Arthur Clough, Larry Cataldo, 133 Islington St, Portsmouth, NH 03801  & many, many others. Let make our voices heard.






In the wake of Citizens United and efforts to stamp out big money in national politics, many folks in Portsmouth worry that big money is trying to influence our local city election.

Former Mayor Steve Marchand, now a paid political operative, is orchestrating a fancy PR campaign pushing a slate of eight City Council candidates. But three of his endorsed “Great 8”– incumbent City Councilors Chris Dwyer, Brad Lown and Eric Spear– were in the 5-4 anti-transparency majority that cast two crucial (Dec. 8, 2014) second reading votes against extending conflict of interest/financial disclosure requirements to the City Manager and land use boards (as the City Charter specifically requires). Asked at a recent forum whether he’d make the city comply with its own financial conflict of interest requirements, Marchand endorsee Gibson Kennedy said a flat “No!” Jack Blalock and Joshua Cyr waffled; Rebecca Perkins said she wouldn’t include the land use boards. Only Nancy Pearson of all Marchand’s endorsees said “Yes.” (Josh Denton, not on his list, was noncommittal).

“With all the turmoil involving financial conflict-of-interest and the police, Portsmouth city government needs more financial transparency– not less,” an observer said. “Who’s paying for this campaign? Is big money trying to transform our city politics? Citizens need to stand up to demand transparency in compliance with our City Charter and local city campaign finance reform so we know who’s financing our local city elections. That’s what this election is all about– financial transparency across city government.”


Marchand—a paid political and PR strategist who offers his contacts and expertise to commercial real estate and other clients– sits on the Portsmouth Herald’s Community Advisory Board and the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee. Because the Herald is endorsing candidates, many feel that’s a conflict of interest for the newspaper at the very least. Meanwhile, One Portsmouth, Marchand’s website, describes what it’s doing as a “grassroots” campaign. But these days, so-called “astroturf” PR campaigns also mimic grassroots efforts on behalf of paying interests. “Who is financing this ‘grassroots’ campaign while unpaid grassroots efforts that we know are real like the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers and Portsmouth Now! and a bunch of earnest, hardworking citizen volunteers come under attack?” objected the local observer. “Campaign signs and mailers are expensive. Who is paying all the bills?”

The Portsmouth Herald, now owned by a giant corporate hedge fund that owns hundreds of American newspapers, has a near-monopoly on Portsmouth’s daily news menu. But it has been just about silent on these questions. “The newspaper should look itself in the mirror and demand financial transparency across our city government– not just the police,” the onlooker said. “It should also report the facts. Will the Herald give city voters information about the financing behind a City Council campaign orchestrated by a Herald board-member it obviously has access to? Or will the city’s lone daily newspaper let city voters go to the polls lulled by sunny PR but uninformed about what’s really going on?”

A judge's ruling abot conflict of interest in the police department has triggered calls for financial transparency across Portsmouth city government

A judge’s ruling abot conflict of interest in the police department has renewed calls for all of Portsmouth city government to comply with the City Charter’s conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements



Email Exchanges Between City and Developer Raise Explosive Ethics Questions


Just when ethics and conflict of interest problems have embroiled the Police Department and triggered a public uproar, a  legal request for a city board to reconsider the Historic District Commission’s Harborcorp approval and  Conditional Use Permit raises questions about transparency and the democratic process in Portsmouth city government and its land use boards.

The administrative appeal filed with the city last Thursday (asking for the Board of Adjustment to reconsider the HDC’s various OKs of the project) alleges that the Portsmouth Planning Department wrote the draft decision approving HarborCorp and the permit to let it rise above the 45-foot height limit before the HDC held its public hearing and final vote this June 10. The motion– accompanied by a hefty 750-page booklet of supporting documents– also alleges that city Principal Planner Nick Cracknell leaked word of the HDC’s pending appproval to HarborCorp’s lawyer hours before the public hearing and vote (see PDF of memo cover sheet below). (Tellingly, the motion reads, HDC chair Joseph Almeida asked for the Planning Department to draft the approval (ie. saying “Yes”) before the public hearing, but did not ask for a draft decision saying “No” in case the board voted against it).

“In short, the June 10, 2015 public hearing was a sham,” lawyer Jerry Zelin wrote on behalf of 196 appellants. “The outcome was determined and communicated to HarborCorp before the hearing.” The Planning Board hearing was similarly “tainted” by behind-the-scenes decision-making, the motion alleges.

Two volunteer Portsmouth lawyers, Jerry Zelin and City Council candidate Duncan MacCallum, worked countless unpaid hours compiling the motion on behalf of 196 individuals more or less affiliated with a wide range of groups from the APT to Portsmouth Listens and no group in particular. The lawyers got their most explosive information via Freedom of Information Act requests of the type investigative reporters usually use. (Why does it take unpaid volunteers to dig this stuff up when there’s a daily newspaper in the city? This email story was spoon-fed to the Portsmouth Herald last week. Why did the Herald sit on the story for days instead of reporting it? Speculation is rampant, ranging from blaming the overworked reporter on this beat to his editor, his boss’s boss, or their publisher for alleged bias, or the giant hedge fund that now owns the Herald and hundreds of other American newspapers. Is it about the coming election? Readers are in the dark). But contrary to  astroturf PR and City Hall real estate lobbyists’ claims, the appellants say they are not against development or grocery stores. It’s just that they feel the city’s largest megabuilding– spanning three lots and several football fields– would be way more people-friendly and better for the city in the long run if it were split up and built on a more human scale.

“At a time when police conflict of interest and transparency problems have sent shock waves rippling through the city, these latest allegations raise serious questions about what’s going on at Portsmouth City Hall,” this blogger noted. “This is why we need strict, meaningful conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements at all levels of city government from all our city officials elected and appointed. It’s why we need to elect a Mayor and City Councilors who are straight-shooters with the backbone to clean up our city government and fight for taxpayers’ interests. What’s going on here? Is this the tip of the iceberg?”

Here’s a PDF of the controversial p. 520 memo cover sheet in the 750-page document book supporting the appeal, communicating the HDC decision to Harborcorp before its vote:

cover sheet copy


Without asking the City Council, a member of the city’s legal team earlier this year testified on the city’s behalf in favor of a bill that would have made it more expensive for citizens to get information about their city government under the Right-to-Know law, according to departing City Councilor Zelita Morgan. The bill was tabled, but Morgan warns that it could come up again and make it harder for residents to get access to public information. Morgan, who plans to bring it up at tonight’s City Council meeting, says voting also costs municipalities money, but cities don’t charge citizens to vote. She urges anyone interested in open access to public information to speak out during public comment at the meeting’s start or email the Council at


Puzzled readers have asked us about an article published in the Portsmouth Herald last Sunday, Oct. 11. The story, which had a prominent front-page teaser, was riddled with errrors and damaging innuendo about Portsmouth Now!, wrongly repeating as fact– multiple times– developers’ claims that Portsmouth Now! has filed lawsuits and appeals against developers and the city. For the record, Portsmouth Now! has never filed any lawsuits or legal actions against anybody. On Wed., Oct 14—three days after the story ran– the Herald finally posted a corrected version of the story online. On Thursday, Oct. 15– four days after the story ran– the Herald finally ran a correction on p. 2 of its print edition. But the people who asked us about the story said they missed the correction, and we were not able to find it posted online.

For what it’s worth, an axiom of good journalism is that errors must be acknowledged and prominently posted as fast as possible. Here is what a leading journalism school reports about the Washington Post’s online media corrections policy









During their soon-to-expire terms, three City Councilors running for reelection broke crucial campaign promises to increase transparency at City Hall  by imposing conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements on the key boards approving multi-million dollar developments.

“Amid widespread alarm about conflict of interest and the police, the city’s lax conflict and financial transparency rules for other major players has been all but forgotten,” said one observer. “But the City is still way out of compliance with the Amendment C of the City Charter (its Constitution) which requires mandatory financial disclosure by ALL municipal officials appointed or elected. How come?”

With the city awash in development dollars, many residents urged the City Council to increase transparency by beefing up financial disclosure for all elected and appointed city officials as required by the City Charter.

With the city awash in development dollars, a 5-4 City Council majority defeated efforts to extend financial disclosure to key players, as required by the City Charter.

In a 2013 Portsmouth Now preelection survey, candidates Chris Dwyer, Brad Lown and Bob Lister (who won our endorsement and became Mayor), answered “Yes” when asked if they would extend financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards. Former Mayor Eric Spear and City Councilor Stefany Shaheen did not participate in the survey, but their votes have shown where they stand.


In two crucial Dec. 8 (2014) second reading votes on moves to tighten the city’s lax conflict of interest/financial disclosure requirements to comply with the City Charter, City Councilors Eric Spear, Brad Lown, Chris Dwyer, Stefany Shaheen and Mayor Bob Lister formed a 5-4 majority voting AGAINST including the land use boards and the City Manager, (voting instead to add the School Board and Police and Fire Commissions). Voting in the pro-transparency minority were Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine and City Councilors Esther Kennedy, Jack Thorsen and Zelita Morgan.

“The last Charter change in 1987 approved by two-thirds of city voters requires financial disclosure of ALL police, school, municipal officials, appointed or elected, of current personal sources of income and all capital assets– None of this watered down stuff,” the observer noted. “Other cities do it—why aren’t we?”

Now, incumbents Dwyer, Spear and Lown want your vote again.  Asked how voters knew he’d keep his campaign promises in 2013, Lister, who isn’t running again, declared: “I have 38 years of integrity and leadership as an educator and in civic activities. Any friends and colleagues will state that I am a person of my word, I am consistent, do not shy away from making decisions and I do not waffle on issues. Integrity and building trust is very important to me.”

The moral of the story? Voter beware.

Candidates accepting Portsmouth Now's endorsement in 2013 included Bob Lister, who went on to break his campaign promise to extend financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards

Accepting Portsmouth Now’s endorsement in 2013 were Bob Lister, who became Mayor and broke a key campaign promise to extend conflict of interest/financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards



Folks pushing for more human-scale growth in Portsmouth want the Mayor and City Council to vote against the North End’s character-based zoning ordinance Monday (Aug 17) because it’s too big and too tall.The last Master Plan urged pedestrian-friendly, human-scale growth in the North End. But many say the once hopping neighborhood leveled by urban “renewal” is being overstuffed with overlarge buildings. “Like Urban Renewal, the City is again separating the North End from downtown instead of integrating it. Why allow monstrous over-development there? Why no tougher parking requirements? Why no water/sewer impact fees as other cities do to help pay for the new sewage treatment plant? We’ve added huge 24/7 water users like Portwalk and given them a free ride at taxpayers’ expense,” a critic noted.

Up for final OK Monday night, the North End zoning ordinance calls for four floors or 50 feet in most of the North End, five stories or up to 60 feet in the interior, with an extra floor most places if developers offer things like worker housing. Heights are stepped down to a more human-scale two to two-and-a-half stories within 100 feet of high tide, and building footprints are limited to 15,000 square feet (Portwalk III is 50,000 sq ft). On August 3, City Councilor Stefany Shaheen cast the lone vote against second reading of the North End zoning ordinance—not out of apparent concern for the city’s character– but so more weight could be given to the interests of “landowners,” echoing former Mayor/developer Peter Weeks’ bid for a delay.


Two years ago, citizens met amid outrage about development trends in Portsmouth. Noting that over 90% of all downtown Portsmouth buildings were 35 feet or lower, Portsmouth Now and hundreds of citizens pushed for the City Council to pass a 35-foot height limit to protect its character. Instead, in Sept. 2013, the City Council passed a 45-foot height limit with a Conditional Use Permit letting developers go above 45 feet if the pro-hyperdevelopment Historic District Commission said yes. During the 2013 City Council campaign, six of the nine City Councilors who won election—including Portsmouth Mayor Bob Lister, Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine, and City Councilor Brad Lown—pledged to back the new height limit without a CUP—which would have kept the whole downtown – including Harborcorp–no higher than 45 feet. However, on April 7, 2014, Lister, Splaine and Lown broke their promise during the decisive second reading and voted to exempt Harborcorp from the new height limit.


“The North End has become nothing more than a real-life game of monopoly played by just a few developers—but the big losers are the citizens of Portsmouth,” the critic said. “We fought for a 45-foot height limit less than two years ago. Let’s see if City Councilors will now keep their promises and not let anything go higher than 45 feet in downtown Portsmouth.”


PW wall edited

The size and scale of new North End development has caused widespread consternation  


PR Frenzy Revvs Up Before Next Wed’s Key HDC Harborcorp Votes

Orchestrated “enthusiasm” for giant buildings is revving up before next Wed’s (June 10, 6:30 pm) Historic District Commission public hearing and key votes on Harborcorp. Long as two football fields, the megadevelopment wants HDC  permission to sprawl undivided across three city lots and tower over the 45-foot height limit.

A well-funded PR effort on behalf of development and related interests is trying to sell the unsustainably large project as a way to get a “green” grocery store downtown, and lots of parking  for up to 1,400 conference-goers, 98 hotel rooms and luxury condos. Folks who want smarter, more human scale growth say that’s just smoke and mirrors. Worried residents predict the behemoth will wall off the North End from the downtown, usurp up more public parking because it doesn’t provide enough for its own needs and choke up traffic.

“It’s just too damn big,” one said.

“I wonder what the [grocery store] marketing departtment would say about their trade name being used to sell such an unsustainably huge project,” another wondered aloud.

HOW TO HELP: You can ask the HDC to do its job and encourage more moderate growth in keeping with our pretty historic downtown (whose character it’s supposed to protect so all the tourist dollars keep coming). Just email the HDC via and hope they pay attention.

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and some worry it would wall off Maplewood

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and tower over the 45-foot height limit

Urgent Letter to Key Portsmouth Land Use Boards looking for signers

Jerry Zelin asked us to forward you this letter to the Planning Board and HDC looking for signers. If you are willing to sign it, email Jerry ASAP with your full name and place of residence at  Here’s the letter:

“Dear members of the Portsmouth Planning Board and Historic District Commission,

We would like to support Harborcorp’s project.  Here is what would earn our support.

  1. A division of the proposed building into two or three separate structures, connected by pedestrian bridges if necessary.
  2. Variability in building height.
  3. Adequate parking for tenants, employees, supermarket customers, and conference center guests.
  4.  A restrictive covenant barring conversion of the supermarket, conference center, and hotel spaces into a casino, even if state law eventually permits casinos.

Thank you for considering these suggestions.


Your Name (xxx resident)


Questions About Parking Garage: Is this Taxpayer-Funded Welfare for Private Real Estate Developers?

With the Portsmouth City Council voting tonight on a $23.2 million dollar bond issue to build a second parking garage, critics of the process are asking: “Is this being rushed through? If so, why the rush?”CALCULATOR 2

“The proposal is to spend $23.2 million dollars to build 600 parking spaces in a massive six-story building over 60 feet tall.  Do the math—that’s more than $38,000 per space!,” a critic says.  “Further, as part of the $23.2 million in total costs, the city plans to pay $5.1 million dollars to buy the land.  Is the land really worth $5.1 million of Portsmouth taxpayers’ money? Has an independent real estate appraisal been done of this land? If not, why not? Only two years ago, the same garage proponents claimed that a 300 space garage on the Worth lot would solve all of our traffic and parking problems forever. So why today is 600 the new magic?”


To even the most casual observer, it looks like a driving force behind this parking garage is that the city did not require Portwalk to provide as much parking as some would say zoning back then required. Now Harborcorp is offering to provide only 523 on-site spaces for their massive 60 foot tall, curb-to-curb development. “Are we to believe that this is adequate for conferences of 1,300 people, a 98-room  hotel, more luxury condos, and a 40,000-square-foot supermarket? Does this meet the zoning code? Why are our city leaders not requiring private developers – like Harborcorp and Portwalk — to provide or pay for more parking? Why are we asking taxpayers to pay for the parking for private developers?  And please stop lying to us by claiming it’s not going to cost city taxpayers anything!  Parking revenues are just like property taxes – they are just one more source of general fund revenue  to pay for the city’s budget.  Parking revenues are the TAXPAYERS’ money that can be used for any purpose.

Also how come the proposed new garage and the Harborcorp proposal (the largest and most massive in the city’s history) are not in the city’s new 3D modeling software so citizens can see how massive they really are?  What more is being hidden from us? As the City Council votes tonight, how big will this garage be—60 feet tall? What about the 45-foot height limit? Why is this proposed parking garage not posted on the city website?  Who is this parking garage really being built for? Is this property tax welfare for private real estate developers?