Sunday, May 4, 2003

Kenton Co.'s GOP machine revs up



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So the Kenton County Republican Party has a machine. Who knew?For evidence, take a look at the grinding Republican Rodney Eldridge took when he tried to win the party's nomination for this fall's property valuation administrator race against Democrat Merrick Krey.

Eldridge has worked in courthouse record rooms for more than 25 years. A property title examiner, he's inspected more property transactions, deeds and liens than a lawyer suing Bill Erpenbeck.

He's been involved in Republican politics here and elsewhere in Kentucky for years.

And he made it to the final cut out of eight hopefuls when it came time April 21 for the Kenton County Republican Party Executive committee to vote on the party's nominee.

But Eldridge is not the son of a Kenton County commissioner. He didn't have the backing of the county judge-executive, the county attorney and some powerful executive committee members. So he lost a secret ballot of the 30 committee members - some say it was close, others claim it wasn't - and 20-something Taylor Mill resident Kevin Black got the nomination.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. But when power is wielded, it's interesting to see who is wielding it.

In this case it was what can best be defined as the Kenton County GOP establishment, a group that is growing more comfortable with flexing its political muscle. And why not?

This crew is just about unbeatable when it comes to Democrats. So why not go after some of its own when necessary?

Black is a bright young guy who was weaned on politics.

His mom, Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black, is about as tough as they come on the Northern Kentucky political scene. She'll take on anyone anywhere - political foes, party leaders, reporters, you name it - and enjoy doing it.

His dad is Keith Black, a lobbyist for Cinergy with a disarming, low-key demeanor who has mastered Frankfort's political landscape.

And Kevin, who holds an MBA, did serve a term on Taylor Mill City Council. But his greatest asset may have been his name and connections - which, when you get right down to it, are - along with money - what political success is really all about.

Republican Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd got involved and helped push Black to executive committee members.

But he denies the rumors that he spent the final weekend before the race working the phones on Black's behalf.

"I've known Kevin since he was a pup, and I don't even really know the other guy," Murgatroyd said. "I just supported Kevin, and that's what I told people when they asked me."

But people close to the judge say he decided to get vocal and active after the race was portrayed as a feud between the fiscal court that he and Barb Black sit on and the Kenton County Sheriff's Office, which was behind Eldridge.

Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn and the fiscal court have had several well-publicized battles over funding and other issues.

And more than one executive committee member clearly saw the PVA nomination not so much as Black versus Eldridge but as sheriff versus fiscal court - something both sides deny.

"This was not about the sheriff and the fiscal court," the judge said.

"Kevin Black will be a good candidate and a good PVA," said Chuck. "There is no animosity."

The sheriff at least admitted that the GOP is going through "some growing pains." And Murgatroyd supporters were glad to see the judge flex some political muscle, something many Republican leaders wish he would do more often.

Even Eldridge is refusing to grouse. He is going to co-host a fund-raiser for Black and is already being looked at as the party's possible candidate for county clerk in three years.

But his supporters are ticked.

"This is why people hate politics," said one Eldridge backer. "We put up the best and most qualified person, but we go right back to the same old politics and backroom deals."

And your point is ...?

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com




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