Sunday, October 07, 2001

Kentucky Politics


Newport's improved reputation an asset to local politicians

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        It's usually easy to figure out when a politician is worried about the turnout at a fund-raiser.

        They will book a small room to make the crowd look bigger and then ask for a small contribution or no cash at all, just in case the money or the supporters don't turn out in numbers the pol was counting on.

        Well, when Newport City Commissioner Ken Rechtin formally announced his campaign for county office a couple weeks ago, he could have booked a bigger room and asked for money.

        The overflow crowd spilled out of the room Mr. Rechtin booked at Pompilio's, the classic Italian restaurant on Newport's east side. And while Mr. Rechtin wasn't asking for money, he should have.

        The folks who showed up were excited about Mr. Rechtin's candidacy, but they seemed equally enthused about a Newport politician seeking countywide office in Campbell County.

        There was a day as recent as the last election cycle when a Newport politician wouldn't even try to win outside the city. Old reputations die hard and Newport had one of the hardest.

        Sin City, it was called. Wide-open illegal gambling was followed by Monmouth Street strip clubs and urban decay with lots of examples of local government corruption all the way through the 1970s.

        In the 1980s some reform-minded pols and community leaders started working to bring development to the riverfront, and it's abundantly evident that the effort has paid off as the Levee throws open its doors.

        Newport is now the place other local governments point to as a city that is doing things right, from attracting millions of dollars in private investments along the riverfront to refurbishing Monmouth Street, where the nudie bars are slowly being replaced by new businesses.

        The time may be right for a politician to actually benefit from Newport's reputation instead of hiding from it.

        “I've been told,” Mr. Rechtin said to his supporters during a brief speech in which he stood on a chair, “that a Newport politician cannot get elected countywide. What do you think? Is that still there?

        “I think now Newport politicians are recognized as good, hard-working dedicated servants to the public, and I think it's time that a Newport politician be elected to county office,” he said.

        So Mr. Rechtin has formally kicked off his Democratic primary campaign against incumbent county commissioner Roland Vories of Fort Thomas, who, ironically, got his own start in Newport politics.

        Mr. Rechtin will need votes from out in the county because Mr. Vories enjoys a base of support in the county's heavily Democratic river basin in Newport, Dayton and Bellevue. He is also a known quantity who has been on the scene for years.

        Mr. Rechtin will also have to tread a delicate line when he talks about Newport's development success. While the issue is clearly an asset, a smart Democrat reminded me last week that lots of people out in the county don't want massive development south of Alexandria, meaning a pro-growth agenda won't fly in places like Claryville, Grants Lick, Camp Springs and Mentor.

        That's an issue to be debated and decided in the campaign. And the winner of the May primary is almost certain to face a Republican challenger next November.

        But even talking about the possibility of a Newport politician winning outside of Newport shows just how far the city and its elected officials have come.

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

       



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