By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It was a breezy Friday in late September 2002. Several hundred people had gathered at Northern Kentucky University for the dedication of the school's $38 million science building.
The crowd of local leaders, university officials and students was expecting to hear remarks from one of the people most responsible for the project, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton.
But Patton, who put money for the science building in the state budget, didn't make it to Highland Heights. Instead, he stayed in Frankfort, preparing for the press conference later that day in which he tearfully admitted to an affair with businesswoman Tina Conner.
The events of that day provide a microcosm of Patton's tenure as governor - accomplishment overshadowed by scandal.
With just two days left in his eight-year tenure, Northern Kentucky leaders tried last week to downplay the latter and focus on the former.
"Say what you will about Paul Patton, and there is a lot to say with what he went through," said House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, a Patton ally during the years together in Frankfort, "but there is no question he was a friend to Northern Kentucky."
NKU's science building was the largest state-funded project ever built on the campus of a public university in Kentucky. It was just one example of the attention Patton paid to higher education in Northern Kentucky and across the state, said NKU President Dr. James Votruba.
Patton's controversial 1997 overhaul of the state's system of higher education resulted in an increase in NKU's annual benchmark funding by $6 million, led to the development of the METS workforce training center in Erlanger and resulted in the creation of Gateway Community College in Boone County.
"Paul Patton's legacy, above all else, will be in higher education, where his impact was profound," Votruba said.
First as lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1995 and through his two terms as governor, Patton helped draft and cheer on legislation that provided tax and other incentives to employers. The efforts helped attract some high-profile companies to Northern Kentucky, among them Toyota, Fidelity, Delta Air Lines, Ashland and Citibank.
"The jobs-development acts have been used and continue to be used to attract both large and small companies and helped others expand," said Steve Stevens, vice president and lobbyist for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
The Patton administration's support of legislation that provided tax breaks to tourist attractions - The Tourism Development Act - led the way for the Newport Aquarium, Newport on the Levee, the Kentucky Speedway and the Hofbrauhaus restaurant.
"Setting all the personal issues aside, Paul Patton was very good to Northern Kentucky, especially Campbell County," said Wally Pagan, president of Southbank Partners, which oversees development efforts in Northern Kentucky's river cities. "We wouldn't have things like the aquarium and Newport on the Levee without him and the Tourism Development Act."
Patton has had well-publicized clashes with Northern Kentucky Republicans throughout his two terms - most often battles over money or social issues such as laws to limit access to abortions. Anti-abortion activists were outraged when Patton vetoed a bill that required a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could receive an abortion. Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, sponsored the bill.
Others said Patton lavished his home of Eastern Kentucky with money and programs that should have gone to other areas, said state Rep. Jon Draud, R-Edgewood.
"There were a lot of people who think he could have done more for Northern Kentucky," said Draud, who at times supported Patton's agenda.
"We did get projects like the NKU science building and Newport on the Levee, but in terms of money for road projects, we lagged behind.
"But in my area of expertise, education, Patton did a tremendous job," said Draud, a career educator and former superintendent of the Ludlow schools.
"As far as education, he may have been the greatest governor in our history."
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