Sunday, March 11, 2001

Steve Clark

Villa Hills mayor gave a hand to his enemies

        VILLA HILLS — Steve Clark's tenure as mayor of this city started out like most things in life — with promise and potential and opportunities for something new and good.

        It ended quite the opposite, in disgrace and scandal and abject failure.

        It is easy — too easy, some say — from where I sit to criticize and second-guess politicians. But Mr. Clark, for all his now apparent flaws and mistakes, seemed to have so much going for him when he was elected mayor in 1998.

        That seems improbable, impossible, even laughable now, given what we know about the deposed Mr. Clark.

        Last Wednesday — with lawsuits, allegations involving sexual harassment and Internet porn and an angry group of residents wanting him ousted all converging against him — Mr. Clark finally walked away from the gig he swore he'd never be forced to leave.

        There were cheers when the mayor's resignation was announced. Most of the 150 or so people at the city council meeting wanted Mr. Clark to hit the road a long time ago.

        But more that one person told me that while glad Mr. Clark was finally vacating the mayor's office, some of the cheering was because the city's odd political odyssey was finally ending.

        “People are just tired of it all,” said Councilman Denny Stein, the former mayor Mr. Clark defeated to win office two years ago.

        “They want it to end. They want to move on.”

        Simply put, it didn't have to come to this.

        Mayor Clark came into office with what I consider a mandate — he was basically an outsider who, in beating Mr. Stein, took out a longtime local pol whose name had practically become synonymous with the city.

        But for sending an authorized $25,025 check to a concrete company, Mr. Clark was investigated by everybody but Scully and Mulder — including the Attorney General, the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney and his own city attorney.

        A grand jury refused to indict him last fall. On the heels of that reprieve, a state audit tore into the way the city was run under Mr. Stein. The public's money was spent on trips to Hooters, on big bar bills at the Drawbridge, on golf outings and on lots of out-of-town trips.

        Mr. Clark was holding more political capital than George Bush — the father, not the kid — did when the “elite” Republican Guard of the Iraqi army was surrendering to TV news crews a decade ago.

        Yet like Mr. Bush — though hardly in the same way — Mr. Clark piddled away that political capital, squandering it like a lonely retiree shoving quarters in a riverboat casino slot machine.

        Would we have learned about sexual harassment and Internet porn and employee intimidation if Mr. Clark had not fired the police chief and the city clerk?

        If Mr. Clark doesn't can those workers, they don't hire an attorney to threaten the city with a lawsuit or two and council doesn't hire Phil “The Terminator” Taliaferro as a special counsel to investigate Mr. Clark.

        And a lot of that personal dirt, as well as the charges against him, while well known in certain circles inside the city, never hit the papers.

        Steve Clark always claimed his enemies were out to get him. In the end they did — with lots of help from him.

       Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics. He can be reached at (859) 578-5581, or by e-mail at


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