There were more than 200 Portland High School graduates on the stage of Merrill Auditorium last Thursday, but one of them didn’t get a diploma – he was handing them out.

Principal Mike Johnson took part in his last commencement exercise, his first since the announcement of his transfer to the Portland Arts and Technology High School, a lateral move but a shocking one to people who can’t imagine one of Portland’s oldest institutions without the imposing figure with a bass voice at its head.

Johnson, a 1977 graduate of the high school, took the helm 10 years ago, days before Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center towers. Johnson found himself in charge of one of the only institutions in the state where Muslims interacted with people of other backgrounds on a daily basis.

In a message published in this year’s Portland High yearbook, Johnson said he had to quickly educate himself about the religions and cultures of the students he had just met and dedicated himself to keeping everyone safe.

“While the rest of the country was in turmoil, with acts of hatred directed at Muslims, inside the walls of Portland High was an atmosphere of tolerance and compassion. I am most proud of that fact.”

“Transformation” is the buzz word in education reform these days, and a guy like Johnson, with such a long tenure and such justified pride in what works at his school, is probably not the right leader to transform it.

But there are plenty of students and parents who are sad to see him go, and Mike Johnson’s legacy at the high school is one that will be remembered for a long time.

 

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Whenever there is a scandal like U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s humiliating meltdown, some commentator will intone “the cover-up is always worse than the crime.”

Really? There may be cases where the crime is covering up something that was not itself a crime, but for the most part, people cover stuff up for a reason.

The most cited example is Watergate, but even that doesn’t wash. If on June 18, 1972, Richard Nixon had gone on TV and said, “I hired a gang of thugs to spy on my enemies and interfere with electoral campaigns,” would he really have gotten into less trouble than he did?

And now that Weiner has ‘fessed up and told us all about how he likes to send digital pictures of his privates to strange women, do we find him any less creepy?

This guy should resign and not wait for the ethics investigation to turn up something worse. Maybe someone will give him a talk show.

 

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The crazy idea of clogging up Portland Harbor with the retired aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy appears, thankfully, to be dead. But if there are still people looking for a historical attraction for Portland, here’s an idea.

It’s Fort Gorges, just off East End Beach, a Civil War-era relic that is slowly disintegrating before our eyes.

At least that’s what Tom Stonehouse, a postal carrier and history buff, thinks, and he makes a lot of sense.

“I’ve been to forts and castles all over the world, and they make great museums,” he said. “This would put Portland on the map. The only problem is there is no way to get to it.”

Stonehouse thinks a little restoration work and a system of boats to ferry visitors to the small island would do the trick.

Fort Gorges has a number of big advantages over the JFK. For one thing, it’s already here, and turning it into a museum would not displace any current commercial, industrial or recreational activity, as the big ship would have.

And unlike the Kennedy, which had only the slightest historical connection to Portland, Fort Gorges has been protecting our harbor for 150 years or so.

It was built about the same time as Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., and was made in the same design, the main difference being that Fort Gorges was built from granite and Sumter brick.

The fort is owned by the city and is on the National Register of Historic Places. How much would it take to turn Stonehouse’s idea into a reality? It would be worth finding out.

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The field of people running for mayor of Portland is expected to grow by one today, when Deering High Spanish teacher and Munjoy Hill activist Markos Miller joins the fray.

By my count, that brings the total of candidates to 13, but there are still some big names out there who were rumored to be interested who have not yet announced.

Miller has a lot of good ideas about playing on Portland’s strengths in transportation and development, which may not be enough to get him heard in this crowded race.

But since this is the first Portland mayoral election in 80 years and no one fully understands how a brand-new ranked-choice voting system will play out, it’s impossible to say who really has a chance.

 

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]