Two tales on C-J Endorsements

Amy Shir had a friend who warned her that the Courier-Journal’s endorsement would be tough to get in her District 48 state House campaign, because her Republican opponent, Bob DeWeese, is friendly with the paper’s editorial board. She said she was told Jill Johnson Keeney, a member of the board, was close to DeWeese. Nonetheless, she did her homework and was well-prepared for her endorsement interview.

When she showed up and got off the elevator with DeWeese, she said CJ editorial director David Hawpe greeted DeWeese with great deference, actually bowing in a joking manner. The C-J endorsement went to DeWeese, but was written in a way that Shir thought was peculiar, especially this line: “On policy grounds, Mr. Shir would be our choice.” The C-J reasons that voters should choose DeWeese, in part because of the valuable contributions he makes to his party. That’s right, to his party.  I’m not sure that endorsement is based on solid reasoning, andthe C-J piece seems to be questioning its own choice.

On the other hand, sometimes the appearance of conflict among C-J editorial board members doesn’t mean there’s anything untoward going on. In a school board race, Pat O’Leary is running for re-election against Debbie Wesslund. O’Leary sent me a copy of an invitation to a Wesslund fund-raiser that was held at the home of a friend, Carolyn Gatz, who happens to be a former editorial board member and is married to Ed Bennett, who is there now. In fact, Bennett was involved in O’Leary’s endorsement interview.

But like other power couples in politics, I’m convinced that Gatz (who retains her name profesionally) and Bennett share many things, but keep their professional affairs separate. Gatz told me that her husband wasn’t home the night of the fund-raiser, and that beside the event raised just a few hundred bucks.

Now, if this situation occurred in a more high-profile race, it would have perhaps been a big story. But with the stakes so low, I believe Gatz when she says she was merely helping a close friend with her campaign, independent of her husband.

Of course, Wesslund got the C-J endorsement, but probably deserved it. O’Leary’s outspoken criticism of the school system’s policies and the actions of the superintendent have made him a divisive force on the board. I think the C-J’s decision was based on the candidate’s views and actions, and not on any influence resulting from Wesslund’s friendship.

The Courier has seen fit to support Democratic candidates Mike Weaver, Baron Hill, Ken Lucas and John Yarmuth in the area’s most contentious and talked-about Congressional races, remaining true to its heritage.  The choice of Yarmuth, however, was in doubt among insiders until it was released Sunday, especially since it backed Northup in 2004 and because of Yarmuth’s past rivalry with the C-J as a businessman and columnist. Read my column later this week in LEO to learn how the C-J has curiously been less than enthusiastic about its support of Yarmuth in its news coverage.

Posing Speaks More Than Words at Rotary Debate

Anne Northup and John Yarmuth have shared the same stage a lot in their campaign for the 3rd District seat in Congress. Today, they traded barbs and insults at the Galt House as guests of the Downtown Rotary Club. I doubt anyone in attendance changed their mind as a result of the candidate’s performances, and I guess that Northup would have carried this room in a landslide.

What I  noticed, though, was the candidates’ body language. The format was that each candidate spoke for two minutes, then relinquished the floor to the other. This went on for about 45 minutes. If you only heard, and didn’t see it, you’d have  noticed Northup’s voice rising in anger on several occasions, and that Yarmuth used humor and sarcasm a lot more. Each addressed the other directly.

When Northup spoke, Yarmuth turned his body toward her and seemed focused on what she was saying. When Yarmuth spoke, however, Northup stared straight ahead or down at her notes. I didn’t once see her acknowledge her opponent visually. Even when she was speaking, she never looked his way.

Meaningful? Perhaps not, but I got the impression that her anger is just below the surface, and that she knows she could lose.  It also seemed to me that when she spoke of her views on Iraq and terror, she knew it was a tactical risk and didn’t give it the emotional force that she reserved for topics like health care and the bridges.

She said it was time for a new quarterback, referring to her desire for Donald Rumsfeld to step down. It’s a new position for her, and she didn’t seem comfortable with the material. Yarmuth’s response was effective — saying that what needed to happen for the country was for George Bush to fire Rumsfeld and show some leadership.  Northup’s football analogy was suspect as well, as if getting rid of the guy running the show might solve all of the team’s problems. It goes a lot deeper than that. Ask the Dallas Cowboys.

3rd District Seeks New Lows, adds Media

The gloves are definitely off in the 3rd District Congressional Race between Decmocratic challenger John Yarmuth ande Republican incumbent Anne Northup. The only thing that can stop these two campaigns from coming to blows is, well, the election Nov. 7.

Northup’s campaign, determined to take attention away from issues by attacking Yarmuth, has latched on to this silly minimum wage debate over Yarmuth’s ownership of southern BBQ restaurants. After running an attack ad on the topic for a week, Northup updated the ad to include the labeling of a WHAS-TV report as wrong, and saying that WAVE-TV and the Courier-Journal had it right. Yarmuth topped that with an ad that included a portion of a WHAS-TV report, a move that infuriated WHAS-TV management.

Both sides are wrong here, but like our attraction to reality TV and professional wrestling, the public apparently can’t turn away. Yarmuth, who introduced Bill Clinton at a Dem rally Tuesday night, should be using his TV time to promote that relationship, not defending his opponent’s attacks on this intergrity.

Northup’s tactics, unfortunately, are tried and true. If she can paint Yarmuth as a hypocrite, voters leaning his way will either vote for her or stay away from the polls. That her logic — he’s a hypocrite because he advocates raising the minimum wage while getting rich from employing minimum wage workers at his restaurants — might work is disturbing. What about her stance on the issue — she’s still against raising the wage, and that’s the bottom-line issue.

Voters who consider the minimum wage issue important should be looking at both candidates’ stances on the issue, and they’re pretty well documented to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, and make their decision based on that. Northup’s ad, at best, distorts the truth about Yarmuth’s restaurant holdings, but at worst presents a false view and diverts attention away from a position she’s apparently not proud of holding.

Stereotyping Voters

I just completed an assignment for LEO in which I talked with folks from different parts of town. I found few surprises.viljennifer

I wasn’t surprised that Norman Simpson, an African-American who owns a business on West Broadway, knows a lot about political issues and knows exactly one Republican. I wasn’t surprised that 20-year-old Clint Cecil, working in a Chili’s in Hillview, credits his Baptist upbringing for stances against abortion and gay marriage. Nor was I surprised that Fern Creek single mom Linda Cobb was active in the Democratic Party and wanted an end to the war. And I could have done the piece on East End investment banker Tom Raque’s views without even talking to him.

But Jennifer Stevens surprised me. Working the bar at Harper’s on Hurstbourne Lane, she had real Democratic views on every issue. But to her, the election is not that big a deal, and she said she might not even vote. Of course, she is a blond, and a bartender, and the first political issue she mentioned was that she hoped John Yarmuth would be able to get the drinking age lowered. But she had some insightful thoughts as well, including a view that we need to get out of Iraq.

For someone who claimed she didn’t pay a whole lot of attention, she really knew a lot about what’s important.
I think what the Democratic Party needs to do to win, especially in the Yarmuth race, is to figure out how to get the Jennifers of the world into a voting booth.

Dems Rally at Union Hall

yarmuth1011061.jpgAt the Oct. 11 Democratic Rally at the UAW Union Hall on Fern Valley Road, party officials showed they’re fired up for the 11/7 election, and that they had a sense of humor.  There was video of a series of George W. Bush gaffes, video of the Barack Obama speech at Slugger Field (oddly, the only video available was from HillbillyReport.com), a clip of a political rant by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, the hilarious Al Gore skit from Saturday Night Live (showing what the U.S. would be like if he had been elected in 2000) and singing from a makeshift Democratic chorus.

Col. Mike Weaver, trying to unseat Ron Lewis in the 2nd District, loosened up with an off-color joke (PUNCH Line: I don’t know, what was her maiden name?). There was a video introduction of John Yarmuth by Ben Chandler. Yarmuth, in a brief speech, called Anne Northup’s comment on raising the minimum wage (“Everyone should have the opportunity to start at the bottom and work your way up.”) a “condescending bit of crap.”

But Jerry Abramson grabbed top billing, saying “it’s time for Democrats to win this fall” because “we’re on the correct side of the issues.”

Seeing Abramson at a Democratic pep rally was a bit of a surprise, and indicates that the “Mayor for Life” may be moving closer to the party’s heart.

He Is Sexy, but CJ’s Fenton Needs a Calendar

Robert EggerToday’s Courier-Journal “The Buzz” column leads with an intriguing item — Robert Egger, one of the Oprah’s “16 Sexiest Men In America” — is supposed to speak to a gathering of the Center for Non-Profit Excellence. Egger, who lives in Washington, D.C., has ties to Louisville and a sister, Fenton points out, who is looking forward to her brother’s appearance today at New Albany’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help school, where Margaret Shain is a teacher.

The problem with the piece — it happened yesterday, Oct. 11. I know, I was there to see it, and here’s a photo of the sexy speaker to prove it.

Fenton got the item right, she just published it on the wrong day.

Egger was a genuinely engaging speaker, and happy to joke about the Oprah notoriety. He’s a force in the non-profit sector, and has written a book, “Begging for Change.” He started the D.C. Central Kitchen, which feeds up to 4,000 people per day in the nation’s capital.

Trespassing at Schools Ignites Catfight

Here’s a sure bet — Jefferson County school authorities will not hesitate to prosecute the WHAS-TV employee charged with criminal trespassing on school grounds Oct. 4.

When a spate of school violence brought the issue into the forefront of national media, WHAS-TV got the idea to test the security at Atherton High School. It sent an employee on campus to see if he could get in. He knocked on a door, and a student opened it. Once inside, the story of what happened depends on who you believe. Ultimately, police were called, the employee was cited, and WHAS-TV played the event as a major news story.

WAVE-TV covered the story as well, taking the opportunity to criticize WHAS-TV in a lengthy story of its own.

But here’s the bottom line — is it the responsibility of the media to test the security of the schools? And if so, does that responsibility extend to other public institutions that are protected by security — should banks, hospitals, airports, public buildings — be subject to surprise illegal inspections by TV stations?

I think not. First, if entering a public school without good reason is considered criminal trespassing, and that’s a crime, then the station is exposing employees to undue risk. But the bigger issue is whether breaking the law for the sake of a news story is acceptable.

School officials don’t think so. Atherton principal John Hudson said the employee, 28-year-old Alexander Elder, lied about the reason for his visit. He told WAVE that WHAS was putting kids in danger and pulling staff away from regular duties, in addition to causing alarm among students and some parents.

WHAS-TV defended its action, claiming it does have responsibility for holding the school system’s security system accountable.  General manager Bob Klingle, according to WAVE, had an acrimonious visit with school superintendant Stephen Daeschner, a meeting Daeschner said he wouldn’t call “pleasant.”

WHAS-TV’s report on school safety, by reporter Mark Hebert, did a good job of communicating the safety policy of the school system. It could have been done just as effectively, however, without breaking the law.

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