Monday, November 06, 2000

City candidates not part of the party crowd

Nonpartisan mantle called confusing

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ERLANGER — As political newcomer Ruly Newsom II campaigned for Erlanger City Council this fall, he was often asked the same question after knocking on a voter's door.

        “Everybody wants to know what party you're with,” said Mr. Newsom, 33, a Republican. “I tell them this is a nonpartisan race, and they don't know what the heck I'm talking about.”

        Mr. Newsom's experience on the stump exposes a nuance of Kentucky election law that many voters probably don't fully grasp.

        In races for mayor and council in Northern Kentucky cities, party doesn't matter. While a candidate may be registered as a Dem ocrat, Republican, Independent or other, they don't run under the mantle of a political party.

        “That's what nonpartisan means, no political party affiliation,” Kenton County Clerk Bill Aylor said.

        Only city and judicial races are nonpartisan in Kentucky. When it comes to local government elections, individual cities make the decision about keeping politics out of races, Mr. Aylor said.

        The last city to have partisan races was Dayton, but they went to nonpartisan races a few years ago, Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass said.

        “In the long run, it's really better for the cities because you don't get into a lot of partisan politics in city races,” Mr. Snodgrass said.

        Mr. Aylor agreed partisan politics does not belong in local government races.

        “I absolutely think it's a good idea. Partisanship doesn't usually get down to the city level. People tend to think about Democrats or Republican on a national or state level, and of course it is a part of county politics,” he said.

        “But really, people in the cities are worried about police protection and garbage collection, not real partisan issues like abortion and gun control.”

        Mr. Newsom isn't so sure about that.

        “People seem to want to know what party you're with,” he said. “State election laws say we can't use it in our campaign materials, but if somebody asks, we're allowed to tell them, and I do.”

        Edgewood Republican Mark Wehry, 36, agrees party affiliation may not have a lot of impact on local issues.

        “But I think voters like to know what party somebody is with because it does say something about their political philosophy and their views on government,” said Mr. Wehry, who said he follows local and national politics closely.

        “I know I do. I ask them. I want to know,” he said.

        Partisan politics does creep into local races despite efforts to keep it out.

        Last year, the Kenton County Republican Party went on a campaign to recruit local office-holders into the GOP. At least three mayors and several council members changed their registration to Republican during the effort.

        Party Chairman Greg Shumate said it gave the party momentum and footholds for grass-roots organization, campaigning and other party activities in most of the county's cities.

        “It also gives us some fertile recruiting ground for future candidates to run for higher office,” Mr. Shumate said.

        Mr. Newsom doesn't necessarily think local races should be partisan. But he would like to see an effort to inform the public that candidates running for City Council do not run as a member of a political party.

        “People either want to know what party you are with, because most voters are tuned in to what political parties believe in, or they should be told that party isn't a part of local races,” he said.

        “I think now we're just confusing a lot of people.”


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