Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Former UK coach 'fires up' Dems

Hall says party can defeat Republicans in N.Ky.

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LATONIA - In 1974, one year after taking over the storied University of Kentucky basketball program, head coach Joe B. Hall had his worst season ever.

Hall, who followed the legendary Adolph Rupp, finished 13-13. By UK's lofty standards it was an abysmal year.

Four years later he led the Wildcats to a national championship.

Monday night at American Legion hall in Latonia, another "team" that could use some reviving - Kenton County Democrats - turned to Hall and his winning touch.

Hall has been barnstorming the state on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Chandler. He appeared for a Unity Rally Monday staged by the Kenton County Democratic Club, an event orchestrated by club president Brad Burtner and long-time Democratic activist Jerry Stricker of Covington, a former UK trustee.

Hall told the crowd of about 100 Democrats - mostly from Kenton, but also Boone, Campbell and even Pendleton counties - that he grew up in a active Democrat family in Harrison County and was close to Chandler's grandfather, A.B. "Happy" Chandler, a former two-term governor and U.S. senator from Kentucky.

Hall called Happy Chandler one of the Kentucky's "greatest" leaders and said that "the apple does not fall too far from the tree."

"Ben Chandler will be the kind of governor every Kentuckian can be proud of," Hall said.

In a half-hour speech Hall regaled the crowd with amusing and inspirational stories of his 13 years - 1972-85 - as head coach of the Wildcats.

But he also and mentioned more than once how Democrats must overcome the dominance of the Republican Party in Northern Kentucky. GOP leaders have pledged to carry the region - recognized across the state as a party stronghold - for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher.

Hall said he detected "eagerness" among the crowd of mostly party officials and activists, "an awakening of the Democratic Party in Northern Kentucky."

"If you people get out and work, we can get the job done in Northern Kentucky," Hall said.

Hall said Fletcher is "beatable" in Northern Kentucky and reminded the crowd that two weeks ago Chandler held his largest campaign fund-raiser to date, an event in Boone County that generated and estimated $105,000 in contributions.

Campbell County Magistrate Bud Wilson said Hall's visit "fired (him) up."

"I'm in charge of the (Democratic) sign committee in Campbell County, and I'm going to be out tomorrow getting locations for signs," Wilson said.

Hall pointed out that many of those in the crowd were leaders and members of organized labor.

"How any labor person can ever be for anything but a Democrat is beyond me," Hall said. "The Democrats are still the party of common people."

Villa Hills Democrat Jerry Reynolds, business agent for the plumbers and pipe fitters union Local 392, said Chandler can win if Democrats don't cross over and vote for Fletcher.

"Republicans win with Democratic votes in Kentucky," Reynolds said. "And more Democrats would vote for Democrats if our candidates got back to being for working people and regular people, like they used to. We need true Democrats, not Democrats trying to act like Republicans."

No Democratic leader in Northern Kentucky has a harder task than Howard Tankersley, who leads the party in Boone County, the largest GOP-controlled county in Kentucky when measured by registered voters.

"There is real value in an event like this," said Tankersley, who cheered repeatedly during Hall's speech. "It generates excitement among the people who can deliver votes for Democrats. We need that right now."


E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com.

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