That’s what the headline from Sunday’s Virginian-Pilot called the beleaguered Portsmouth mayor, James Holley III. The writer was being polite. A reading of the article gives a far different picture.
At 83, he stays silent for long stretches at City Council work sessions, sitting back while other members hash out issues with staff. When he does speak up, his wandering comments can induce stifled giggles from others in the room.
Holley is trim, with skin so smooth that he says strangers sometimes wonder if he has had a face lift, which he said he hasn’t. He speaks slowly and slurs the occasional syllable. At times in this interview he confused basic facts, such as his age.
When he said he was born in November 1926 and thus is 82 years old, he took a correction of the math in stride.
“Oh, is that right? I’ll take it,” he replied. “I don’t want ‘em thinking I’m knocking off a year. I’ll take every one of ‘em. ”
When asked what he was focused on for the city, he began with “growth and development” and veered into the impact of the military’s heavy presence in Portsmouth. He noted the benefit of Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, and said that John McCain, the future senator, recuperated there after he was held as a prisoner in the first Iraq war.
A hospital spokeswoman confirmed that McCain did recover there after his captivity in the Vietnam War. The following day, when asked about his statement about McCain, Holley again cited the Iraq war, until he was corrected.
“Was it the Vietnam War?” he asked. “I’m not sure, one of the wars he was shot down as a pilot.”
I am no doctor but it appears that Holley is suffering from dementia. It’s not unusual at his age, although it is particularly sad to watch unfold. It would explain his behavior over the past few years, as well as why he is stubbornly refusing to resign.
The people of Portsmouth will decide on July 13 whether he should stay in office. This gives them one more reason to vote him out.