Sunday, May 4, 2003

No fade at finish for humbled Patton


He shines in last Derby as governor

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHOTO GALLERY

Photos of Kentucky Derby
LOUISVILLE - Gov. Paul Patton spent Derby Day courting economic development and politicking as if he were running for office instead of leaving it under a cloud of scandal

Between sips of bourbon cocktail on Millionaires Row, Patton shook hands, slapped backs, posed for pictures, mingled with celebrities and seemed to genuinely enjoy his last Derby as governor.

That's despite ongoing federal and state investigations over his admitted affair with western Kentucky businesswoman Tina Conner and accusations that he abused his state power in connection with it.

Joining Patton at his Skye Terrace table was his wife, first lady Judi Patton. Their relationship has been strained since Patton tearfully confessed to the affair last fall. The couple has only recently begun appearing in public together.

"We're emphasizing family," Patton said. "I've got my two sisters, Judi's got a couple of her sisters ... and we have grandchildren and children here. And we've also got a lot of guests."

Campaign for 'boos'

The entire episode has left Patton vulnerable to personal attacks and intense media scrutiny.

Earlier this week, John Ziegler, a conservative talk-show host on WHAS radio in Louisville, said Derby patrons should boo Patton when he awarded the trophy to the Derby winner.

Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, whose relationship with Patton has been rocky at best over the years, said he called Ziegler's show after hearing the comments.

"This is Kentucky's day to shine in the nation, it's even an international day for us," said Henry, attending the Derby with his wife, Heather French Henry, a native of Maysville and the 2000 Miss America.

"I think that would be an embarrassment to Kentucky if we conducted ourselves in any way such as that," he said. "If people have an issue with the governor, they can voice that another day. But not today."

State's day to shine bright

Governors have long used the Derby to woo prospective economic development to Kentucky.

Joining Patton Saturday, a day that included the governor's traditional Derby Day train ride from Frankfort to Louisville, were representatives of corporations that already operate in Kentucky. Among them were General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota. Also accompanying the governor were people who work in the travel and tourism industry.

"This is a chance to showcase Kentucky," Patton said.

Among his 60 or so guests were executives from a manufacturing company he refused to name that is considering locating in Northern Kentucky.

"I can't say who it is," Patton said. "But you'll be hearing about it. They make a very unique product."

Gentleman farmer, ex-gov.

Former Gov. Brereton Jones, a Woodford County horse breeder, was eager for the Derby. Three horses sired by stallions at his Airdrie Stud Farm were running in the feature race. Jones had his eyes on Ten Most Wanted, Brancusi and Indian Express.

"They don't actually belong to me," Jones said. "But if they win, the stud fees that their sires command belong to me."

Jones also talked about Patton and the politics of the Derby.

"You've got the has-beens, the wannabees and the never-will-be's all mixing up and having fun," said Jones, governor from 1991 to 1995. "But I think it's a big mistake to jump on Gov. Patton at the Derby. Anybody who does that is not showing a whole lot of class. It's time to go beyond all that."

Northern Kentucky businessman and horse owner Wayne Carlisle of Fort Thomas, a long-time political and financial supporter of the governor, called Patton "one of the best governors we ever had."

"Statewide and in Northern Kentucky, he took on tough issues and always tried to do what was best for Kentucky," said Carlisle, who had a horse entered in the last race of the day. "Look at all he did for economic development in Northern Kentucky, the companies he helped bring to the area. I think history will treat him well."

GOP hosts Michael Bloomberg

Though Patton has been an easy target for partisan shots, particularly among Republican gubernatorial candidates, GOP leaders refused to pile on Saturday.

"The governor should be here. This is a great Kentucky event," said Kentucky Republican Party Chairwoman Ellen Williams. "We're just not going to comment on the governor's personal life."

Williams and Republican National Committee General Counsel Mike Duncan of Eastern Kentucky hosted one of the party's special guests, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at a Skye Terrace table.

Duncan and Williams are working with Bloomberg to help plan the 2004 Republican National Convention, which will be held in New York.

"This is a great Kentucky event, and it's an event we try to show off Kentucky and do things that will be an advantage for Kentucky later," Duncan said.

"Like having Mayor Bloomberg here. He has access to corporate boardrooms all over the world, and having him into Kentucky is a good thing to talk to him about our economy, our people and the hospitality here. And he has a daughter who rides, so he is very interested in this."

Other high-profile GOP elected officials mingling in the sixth-floor terrace were Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and both of Kentucky's U.S. Senators, Jim Bunning of Southgate and Mitch McConnell of Louisville.

Genteel day, and a Buckeye

And even though politicians were in a place known as Millionaires Row for the wealthy fans who flock to the Derby each year, there was no overt campaign fund-raising going on.

"We do a lot of politicking here," Williams said, "but we don't raise money around the Derby. We let the Derby stand alone. We come and say thanks to people that have helped us throughout the year, and get some tickets and have a party for those people. It's a day to celebrate Kentucky."

The Derby is also the chance for those who want to be governor to campaign among the elite partying in Millionaires Row.

At one point two candidates - Republican Steve Nunn and Democrat Jody Richards - shook each other's hand as they moved through the crowd.

"If you're running for governor, who can't miss this," Richards said. "It's what Kentucky is all about. You want to be here at this great event for the state, especially if you want to be governor. And I want to be governor."

Ohio Senate President Doug White, R-Manchester, and his wife Shirley, a native of Maysville, were attending their first Derby as guests of Kentucky Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.

"We thought year after year that we needed to go to the Kentucky Derby, and with Shirley being from Kentucky and me loving horses, this is long overdue," White said. "And this is really terrific, better than I expected."

White did talk some policy when asked about the prospect of casino-style gaming coming to Ohio.

Because Ohio Gov. Bob Taft has said he will veto gaming if it is included in Ohio's budget, "it will have to stand alone ... as a constitutional resolution before the voters," White said.

White said he has not decided whether he will support the gaming issue going to the ballot.

"I'm not a gambler," he said. "I'll probably bet on the Kentucky Derby ... but I support allowing the people to express their will."

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E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com




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