Thursday, August 05, 1999

Campbell Co. seniors' picnic summer's political hot spot

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MELBOURNE — The Campbell County Senior Citizen Picnic is a feeding frenzy for politicians.

        If it's the first Wednesday in August here, you're going to find 1,000 or so seniors playing bingo, munching hot dogs and chicken, singing, dancing, socializing, reminiscing, drinking beer and soft drinks and just having a good ol' time on what is always a hot afternoon.

        You'll also usually find the pols working the crowd, and working it hard. Not only do the politicians have a captive audience that's in a pretty good mood, but it's a group that follows issues and, most important, votes on a regular and informed basis.

        “You don't want to miss this picnic,” said Campbell County Commissioner Dave Otto, a Fort Thomas Democrat.

        Holding a hot dog with mustard in one hand a fizzing Sprite in the other, Mr. Otto moved easily Wednesday through the Ed Pendery Park picnic grounds, explaining why the picnic is an event he can't miss.

        “It's a lot of fun,” he said. “It's a chance to see a lot of people, and yes, a lot of voters. But it's a real chance to take the pulse of the community and find out what's going on.

        “And if there's one thing about this crowd, they'll tell you what is going on, and they aren't bashful about it.”

        With no regular local elections scheduled this fall, state and county elected officials could operate in a more relaxed atmosphere this year.

        They still did their best to meet and greet, shake hands and pass out goodies, like the note pads Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli was giving to the seniors.

        Yet there wasn't the intense, event contentious atmosphere of an election year picnic, such as last year, when just about every city, county, state and federal office was on the November ballot.

        Oh sure, Wednesday brought some of the usual one-upmanship that comes when politicians get together. Take the jockeying for the best positions at the hot dog booth, where the pols with the prime serving slots get the most face time with seniors moving through the line.

        But as far as raw campaigning, the crowd was reserved for the only two local candidates who will appear on a ballot this fall: Democrat Mariann Guidugli Dunn and Republican Kevin Gordon.

        They are running for property value administrator, an office that opened with the April resignation of Democrat Bill Kaiser. Mr. Kaiser is under state and criminal investigations for misappropriating almost $50,000 from the office. He paid the money back last week but still could face criminal charges.

        Wednesday, the crowd at picnic was all theirs.

        “I haven't really noticed, but I guess we're the only ones campaigning,” Mr. Gordon said as he took a break from meeting voters.

        “You meet a lot of people, and you get a chance to let people know about the election and, of course, who to vote for.”

        Mr. Gordon, giving out fans printed with his name in big red letters, was asked what he was saying to the seniors.

        “If you're not voting for me,” he joked, “stay home on election day.”

        Mrs. Dunn has never run for office, so she was getting pointers in working the crowd from her younger brother, Kentucky Court of Appeals Justice Dan Guidugli.

        “I'm enjoying it,” Mrs. Dunn said. “I'm just introducing myself, telling people about my appointment and letting them know I want to continue to serve them as their PVA.”

        Mrs. Dunn was handing out pens and note pads with “Dunn for PVA” on them.

        “You have to give 'em something,” one longtime county politician said. “They expect it, and it helps them remember you on election day.”

        Fort Thomas Democrat Terry Mann, a member of the Campbell County Democratic Executive Committee and a longtime party leader, said some leading Democrats aren't happy about a splinter group within the party.

        Mr. Mann and others on the committee took exception to some of the comments the group, which has yet to identify itself, made in print over the weekend.

        Seems the group feels the executive committee and others in the party are straying too far from politics and moving too close to being good ol' boys.

        Many of the Democratic elected officials at Wednesday's picnic were talking about the group, which at this point is small and may not have the political muscle or fortitude to make any noise or push for any changes.

        Mr. Mann said he was particularly angry over comments the group's leader made regarding the appointment of Mrs. Dunn to PVA and her selection by the executive committee to be the party's nominee this fall.

        “In the old days, and I'm going back to the early and mid-'70s, the process to pick a nominee for office would never have been as open as it was this time,” said Mr. Mann, a former state lawmaker.

        “We opened the process up, invited the candidates in and then held a secret ballot to choose the nominee,” he said. “Nobody should be offended or insulted by the way it was done, because it was done fairly.”

        Mr. Mann also said the party was excited to have a woman running for office. And he said Fort Thomas resident Connie Beiting, who went for but didn't get the appointment, “will be a spectacular candidate who will hold office in this county someday.”

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at


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