Thursday, April 1, 2004

Did Bunning's so-called joke go too far?

Around Northern Kentucky

Pat Crowley

Did you hear the one about Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Dan Mongiardo looking like Odai and Qusai, the dead sons of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein?

You did if you attended the March 20 4th District Lincoln/Reagan Dinner in Florence. The tasteless joke came courtesy of Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Southgate, who is likely to face Mongiardo this fall.

According to four Republicans at the event, none of whom would be named for fear of angering Bunning, the crowd reacted with laughter - along with some gasps.

Bunning had apparently met Mongiardo - state senator, doctor from the eastern Kentucky mountains, son of Italian immigrants - earlier that day at the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park.

But even some of the Republicans who heard Bunning's speech found the remarks insensitive, boorish and beneath a U.S. senator.

Late last week, the Bunning campaign was e-mailed direct quotes attributed to the senator that a Republican in attendance wrote down after being asked by The Enquirer about the statement.

Friday morning, the campaign issued an apology. But a few hours later, the campaign recanted. They had gotten a tape of Bunning's speech and said the quotes were inaccurate.

Fair enough.

So why not make the tape available so we can hear what it was Bunning said?

The campaign refused.

So tell us what the senator did say? Again, no comment.

"If the senator didn't make these hateful statements, then why not let us see the tape?" said Eric Niloff, communications director for the Mongiardo campaign. "What does he have to hide?

"Whatever Senator Bunning said, he should have the courage to say it directly to Dan Mongiardo - and the integrity to say it directly to the people of Kentucky," Niloff said.

Well, lo and behold, Bunning's campaign had an epiphany Wednesday night, when it issued this statement:

"We're sorry if this joke, which got a lot of laughs, offended anyone," the campaign said.

Hey, as long as it got a lot of laughs. Geez, who's running Bunning's campaign, Billy Crystal?

Kenton County Democratic Chairman Nathan Smith labeled the remarks racist.

"He should apologize," Smith said.

Mongiardo has been through this treatment before from Republicans in Kentucky. In last year's state Senate race, his Republican opponent ran a television ad that mixed Mongiardo's voice with the image of a Sept. 11 hijacker.

Tough politics are fine. But ethnic jokes have no place on the campaign trail. Even if you are a senator.

E-mail Crowley interviews state Senate President Pro Tem Dick Roeding next week on ICN6's "On the Record," which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.

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