Marietta’s depiction in a New York City-based magazine as an impoverished, drug-addled valley of indifference is not sitting well with local residents and officials, including those interviewed in the piece.
Pitched as a story to highlight the successes of an impactful community philanthropist, Alice Chapman, and the nearly 20-year role her Ely Chapman Education Foundation has played in helping educate local youth, many were upset that the story-“A Connecticut Yankee in Appalachia” published in the Spring issue of The City Journal-begins not with Chapman’s successes, but with the city’s supposed failures.
“I was kind of offended by some of the things written,” said Katie McGlynn, a Marietta resident and former city council member.
McGlynn stumbled upon the article as it made its rounds on social media sites such as Facebook. McGlynn particularly was taken aback by the characterization of the city by author Howard Husock.
“He talked about the dysfunctional culture. I don’t think we have a dysfunctional culture. I think we have a lot of problems, not unlike many small towns,” said McGlynn.
Husock is the vice-president of policy research for the Manhattan Institute-a nonprofit political think tank that publishes the quarterly magazine in which the article appeared. Husock visited Marietta in the fall, and spent multiple days seeing the city, said Chapman.
“I was disappointed,” Chapman said Wednesday about her reaction to the article.
Led to believe the organization would be the focus of the article-and possibly receive attention and new funding sources as a result-Chapman agreed to be the subject of the story.
While some statistics about Marietta’s poverty rate and dependence on assistance programs are not untrue and their inclusion in the article do relate to Chapman’s goal of giving all children-regardless of economic background-an academic boost, Chapman said she feels the article led with the negative.
“It was a representation of a part of the city, but not a fair representation of the whole city at all,” she said.
After she was interviewed for the magazine, Chapman was informed her article would be included in an issue that focused on issues of poverty.
“If you look at the whole magazine, the whole issue is based on hidden property, people like me doing things all over the world… I felt the whole magazine was very much a dark magazine, which is obviously the political bend of the (magazine),” said Chapman.
While it was brought to Chapman’s attention after the article that the Manhattan Institute deals with political policy, she is highly apolitical, she stressed.
Chapman said issues like poverty should not be swept under the rug, rather addressed and pushed toward a solution-one which Chapman hopes to strive for through the foundation.
“I think the only way to break the cycle of poverty is through education, and that should be for every child,” she said.
Jean G. Farmer, executive director of Marietta Main Street, said she was saddened by the article.
Its portrayal of Front Street shops as cheap gift stores was “really insulting,” she said.
“We’re not Manhattan, but we have New England charm and we’re a pretty special little place,” she said.
However, Farmer also saw the article as an opportunity to work harder to show Marietta’s beauty.
“It just goes to show we always need to be working to show how great Marietta is, because we are,” she said.
Still, it is a shame that Husock did not see in Marietta many of the positive things that first-time visitors have relayed to her, she said.
“I met a lady at Thrive Cafe last week…in town from out of town. She thought it was just wonderful how friendly everybody was and said the networking (with downtown merchants) was awesome,” said Farmer.
One particular point of contention was the article’s definition of “Appalachian values” as “disordered families, the aversion to work, the welfare dependency, the drugs and violence.”
“Appalachian values are self worth, hard work, family and regionalism,” said McGlynn.
The article backs up its assertion of a poor regional work ethic by quoting an unnamed employee of Washington-Morgan Community Action who drew a connection between available benefits and work ethic.
Community Action executive director David Brightbill said he was unaware if an employee was knowingly interviewed for the piece, but vehemently disagreed with the characterization.
“Every group of people in this country have individuals who play with the system-whether they are multi-millionaires or people (who use assistance),” he said.
While a very small portion of residents might abuse the system, the overwhelming majority of local people who use public assistance do so in a time of need and move on, Brightbill said.
“They haven’t just given up and decided it’s better to be on assistance,” he said.
Some of the article’s statistics are put forth without context, critics said. For example, the article mentions the “over 12 percent of students” who do not graduate within the Marietta City Schools system. However, it does not go on to say that the school is still better than the state’s 80 percent graduation rate.
Husock incorrectly lists the city’s poverty rate at 15.4 percent, “significantly above the national average.” In fact, 15.4 percent is the five-year average for the statewide poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Marietta’s rate for that same time frame, at 23.8 percent, is admittedly higher than the national average of 14.9 percent.
The article also makes assertions that simply can not be backed up with fact.
“The drug trade and its associated gun violence are concentrated in garden apartment complexes, where many residents rely on Section 8 housing vouchers…” writes Husock.
However, the last and only incident of drug-related gun violence in the memory of Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite, happened approximately a decade ago, he said.
“We had something on the west side years ago that appeared to be a drive-by…We don’t have the violence that this person is associating us with,” said Waite.
Marietta is a safe city with a good track record of solving crimes, said Waite. He recalled needing to tell residents to lock their doors during a summer crime surge three years ago because the prevailing city attitude is that it is safe enough to leave doors unlocked, he said.
And while Marietta does have its drug usage, as Marietta resident and Right Path for Washington County Coordinator Cathy Harper points out in the article, the story failed to mention all of the vigilant community groups working to educate and eradicate the problem.
Harper, who is referred to as the city treasurer in the piece, had not yet been elected treasurer at the time she was showing Husock the city, she noted.
Instead, she showed the author around as a representative of The Right Path for Washington County, and tried to show him the work the organization was trying to accomplish as far as encouraging youth to make positive choices, said Harper.
As summer-the busiest season at Ely Chapman-officially begins, the article will not affect the foundation’s day to day goal of enriching the lives of children from all walks of life, said Chapman as she waited for a bus load to round out the 68 students expected at the center Wednesday afternoon.
‘I’m here to educate people, and to break that cycle of poverty,” she said.