Judge executive candidates debate hot topics, amidst finger-pointing and name-calling

Candidates take public stance in a political dance

PARK HILLS, Ky. – What started out as a series of lively debates between judge executive candidates —and the issues plaguing their respective counties —ended with verbal blows between the two men running for the Kenton County seat.

“We have a lack of leadership. We have a lack of leadership with integrity,” said Kris Knochelmann, Republican candidate for Kenton County judge executive. “We’re not going to have bullying, intimidation or arrogant actions.” 

To which his opponent and incumbent Steve Arlinghaus, also a Republican, rebutted:

“Calling me arrogant and a bully… it’s a little disappointing, disheartening to use those words,” he said. “Very discouraged by that type of leadership—if that’s what you’re looking for then I’m in the wrong business folks. I shouldn’t be here.” 

Center to the debate—as was the case in each debate for judge executive candidates in Campbell and Boone counties — were the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the Brent Spence Bridge and the region's overall economic development and the escalating issue of heroin abuse in the region. 

The Kentucky primary is May 20. 

“Heroin, the crisis that we’re in right now, we need to address,” said Steve Pendery, Kenton County judge executive, during his debate with Kevin Sell.

Sell agreed.

“It’s a disease and must be treated as one,” Sell said. “Heroin deaths are destroying our families."

To end the epidemic, he said, the county needs more police enforcement, treatment, education, prevention and legislative support—including the ability to charge a heroin dealer with murder in cases when overdoses turn fatal.

READ MORE: The heroin epidemic

While heroin tops his priorities for the county, if elected, Sell said his administration would also be structured around job creation.

“Take heroin out of our county and put jobs in it,” Sell said.

Campbell County Candidates Discuss Economic Development

The issue of jobs was central in the debate between Campbell County incumbent Pendery, of Fort Thomas, and his opponent and Sell, of Alexandria. 

READ MORE: Campbell County judge executive debate, live tweeting

Pendery touted his accomplishments  in the county like the Arcadia community and Northern Kentucky University’s growth in Alexandria and Manhattan Harbour, saying that the county has had the highest strides in economic improvement for its residents.

READ MORE: NKU’s five-year plan, greater role in community development

“I’ve been nurturing several transformative projects, idly waiting for the economy to improve,” he said. “I want to see these projects through to their conclusion.

“We’re on the right path—the region is the most vibrant in the state,” he said.

Sell, a retired paramedic for the airport fire department and an industrial construction firm owner, said that Campbell County has to come first. He said he has a plan to bring good-paying jobs to the region, but did not offer specifics. 

Sell said he sees other counties as competitors; while Pendery vowed to work with the region. 

“Put Campbell County first ... Other counties are our competitors,'' Sell said.

Pendery countered:

“It’s one big world—it’s one big region. To confine everything to one county is faulty. We’re all interconnected,” Pendery said.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Kenneth Rechtin, of Newport, in November.

READ MORE: Who’s running in the Kentucky Primary May 20?

Boone County Focuses On Its Growing Need For New Brent Spence Bridge

At Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., J. Kyle Sweeney, a Libertarian and small business owner who grew up in Cincinnati, went head-to-head with Republican incumbent Gary Moore, of Florence. 

It was unclear why Moore's opponent in the primary, fellow Republican Matthew Dedden of Burlington, did not participate in the debate.

READ MORE: Boone County judge executive debate, live tweeting

READ MORE: The great toll debate

Center to their debate: To toll, or not to toll for a new Brent Spence Bridge, a $2.63 billion project affecting traffic, commerce and safety. The bridge connects north and southbound lanes of I-75 from Ohio to Kentucky.

The bridge was recognized as the most important infrastructure project facing the region, according to a WCPO business survey in January.

It’s a project that has been in the works for 14 years.

The bridge, originally designed to carry 80,000 vehicles per day, now carries twice that. By 2035, 230,000 vehicles are expected to cross it daily.

“The bridge is definitely a problem—I’m in favor of replacing it,” Sweeney said, adding he wants the federal government to foot the bill instead of Kentucky, since it’s an interstate highway, not a state highway.

Moore agreed the bridge needs to be replaced.

But instead of putting responsibility on the federal government, the burden should fall on the Commonwealth.

“Congestion, delays, the safety concerns—it’s time to get it done,” he said. “This is a responsibility of our state legislators in Frankfort.”

And before toll-talk continues, the Kentucky legislature must set aside money for

the bridge, like they did for the Mountain Parkway or “the road to nowhere,'' Moore scoffed. The Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway, also referred to as the Mountain Parkway, is a 76-mile freeway in eastern Kentucky. 

Gov. Steve Beshear approved widening that interstate to four lanes at a cost of more than $595 million in state and federal highway funds, plus an additional $158 million from toll revenue bonds.

The winner of the primary will face off with Sweeney and Independent Patricia J. Wingo in the November election.

Kenton County Squabble Over Airport’s Past

The Kenton County debate began friendly, but ended with a swift kick to egos and achievements, sparked by a single topic: The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and its operating board, the Kenton County Airport Board. It's an issue that gave plenty of well-aimed ammunition between the candidates during the debate, after the dust has somewhat settled after a year's worth of controversies.

READ MORE: Kenton County judge executive debate, live tweeting

Arlinghaus has been at the center of ongoing media coverage and scrutiny related to the board's executive membership, its spending, continued public strife and behind-closed-doors bickering, which worries the region's business leaders. They contend the dissension that erupted late last year, could stymie efforts to increase flights and attract business, which is vital to the economic health of the region.

READ MORE: CVG's ups and downs in 2013-14

Knochelmann criticized Arlinghaus' handling of the abrupt resignations of the board chair, vice chair and a member in February. 

“I would have asked for resignations months ago,” Knochelmann said. “The airport is a huge regional asset, an economic engine. It's a shining jewel of the community… It needs to be run in a professional, non-newsworthy manner.”

Knochelmann called Arlinghaus' appointment of three new board members “a political move.”

In a uncommon move, Knochelmann, of Crescent Springs, sought a vote during a Kenton County commissioners meeting earlier this year related to the airport board, which some saw as a direct attack on Arlinghaus and his leadership.

Arlinghaus waived his right to vote and called the move a “campaign stunt, pure and simple.” 

The two were back at it again during the judge executive debate last week with Knochelmann calling an ongoing audit of board spending and travel expenses "embarrassing."

If voters elect him, Knochelmann promised the negative press related to the airport board would stop.

Arlinghaus, elected into office as judge executive three and a half years ago, said the airport’s problems began long before, pointing to 2006 when flights decreased and the board's leadership shifted.

He vowed he would not give up control of the board to Cincinnati:  "It belongs to the folks of this county.''

His opponent talks about giving airport away, Arlinghaus said, meaning giving control to Cincinnati-based members.

“It’s a $1 billion asset—it’s not mine to give away,” he continued.

But he said that Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati need to continue to “work together as a region (and our) success will be much greater.”

The winner of the primary race for Kenton County judge executive does not currently have an opponent in the general election. However, a write-in candidate has until Oct. 24 to file.

Key dates for Elections 2014:

• May 20: Kentucky primary election
• Nov. 4: General Election

For more stories by Jessica Noll about CVG, heroin and other issues impacting Northern Kentucky, visit http://www.wcpo.com/noll or follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.

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