Thursday, October 17, 2002

Campaign ad sets off alarm bells


Elsmere department wants Murgatroyd spot amended

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ELSMERE - Elsmere's fire department has asked Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd to edit a television commercial, claiming it breaks the law by implying the department is endorsing his re-election campaign.

Lawyer Steve Martin of Ziegler & Schneider, who represents the Elsmere Volunteer Fire Department, has also asked Mr. Murgatroyd to issue a public retraction - either through television or in the newspaper - to clarify that the department is not making an endorsement.

Under state law, fire departments are not allowed to endorse political candidates, Mr. Martin said.

"They can't use our name, which they are doing; and even though the Elsmere Volunteer Fire Department is not making an endorsement, the ad leaves that impression," he said.

The ad began running on Northern Kentucky cable television stations two weeks ago.

It features a man named Jeff Bechtold, who is identified as an Elsmere firefighter.

In the ad, which also features Mr. Murgatroyd, Mr. Bechtold talks of how the Murgatroyd administration has improved the county's 911 emergency dispatch system.

As soon as the ad began airing, Elsmere Fire Chief Paul LaFontaine found problems with it, including:

Mr. Bechtold is no longer with the department. He resigned earlier this year, though the ad portrays him as an active member of the department.

The ad was taped at the Independence Firehouse, even though it ostensibly features an Elsmere firefighter.

The Elsmere Fire Department had no knowledge the ad was produced, nor were any approvals sought to use the department's name.

While Mr. Bechtold compliments the county's 911 system, Elsmere is not a part of the county's emergency dispatch system.

Because of problems it had with the county's system - mainly communicating with other police and fire departments - Elsmere joined Erlanger's 911 system a few years ago, Mr. LaFontaine said.

After seeing the ad on television, Mr. LaFontaine talked to Mr. Murgatroyd and said he was told "our name will be completely taken off the ad."

But when a revised version of the ad began airing Monday, the only change was a reference that Mr. Bechtold was retired. The name of the Elsmere department was still included.

Mr. Martin said he then felt compelled to write Mr. Murgatroyd, asking him to not only delete the reference to the department but to also publish or televise the retraction.

Scott Kimmich, Mr. Murgatroyd's deputy judge-executive, had not seen the letter Wednesday but said he is satisfied that Elsmere's concerns have been taken care of by referring to Mr. Bechtold as a retired firefighter.

"It's like when you see Rudy Giuliani on TV," Mr. Kimmich said. "He's no longer the mayor of New York, but everybody still refers to him as the mayor.

"It's our position using the word `retired' indicates (Mr. Bechtold) is no longer a part of the fire department."

The ad has also has become an issue in the campaign between Mr. Murgatroyd, a first-term Republican, and his opponent in the Nov. 5 election, Fort Wright Democrat Patrick Hughes.

Mr. Hughes has called on Mr. Murgatroyd to pull the ad, not only because it incorrectly portrays Mr. Bechtold as an active Elsmere firefighter but also because Elsmere is not a part of the county's 911 system.

"The ad implies that the Elsmere Fire Department is happy with the county dispatch system," said Mark Guilfoyle, a Hughes campaign adviser. "That is flat-out inaccurate."

Mr. Kimmich said the Democrats are "whining" about the ad.

"There is nothing disingenuous about the ad," he said.

"It's time to stop the whining. The commercial is not going off the air and it must be having a positive effect or they wouldn't be working so hard to get it off the air."

Elsmere City Council member Neva Collins said the ad is not working in Elsmere, where Mr. Murgatroyd and the Kenton County Fiscal Court tried to build the county jail two years ago against the wishes of most of the city's residents and officials. The county dropped the jail plan after a public outcry.

"People are real upset to see an ad that looks like the Elsmere Fire Department is endorsing Dick Murgatroyd," Mrs. Collins said Wednesday.

"Elsmere still remembers what Dick Murgatroyd and the Fiscal Court tried to do out here."

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com.



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