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March 1, 2007

City Strobe

Hey Louisville, are you ready for some savior-faire?Hope arrived in Louisville Sunday evening, albeit a bit later than expected. Even a miracle-worker has to take time to de-ice his airplane when he’s flying out of Chicago in a snowstorm.We are speaking, of course, of Barack Obama, who is running for president. The junior U.S. Senator from Illinois paid a visit to Louisville Sunday night, where he addressed some 3,000 people at the downtown Marriott.Several Democratic insiders were present, although few of them, when asked, would profess their undying love for the upstart candidate. Pragmatism in such matters is a good and sensible attribute, particularly so far in advance of the handful of primaries and caucuses that will decide the Democratic nominee. Read: Only a fool would openly cross the Clintons this early in the horse race.Obama has drawn much attention in the last 14 months, when he’s gone from saying he won’t run for president, to maybe, to, oh, hell, why not? His rhetorical style, at once measured and removed from the standard bitchfest that underlies partisan American politics, gets people excited and prompts them to invoke names like Bobby Kennedy. In a recent Rolling Stone profile of Obama, a 70ish woman in a focus group, after merely hearing a list of things about the candidate, said, “Be still, my heart.”That profile (read it at www.rollingstone.com) may be helpful in answering many of the questions that keep progressives a bit worried about the candidate: While they clearly like his words, they don’t know much about his deeds.That disconnect was on the mind of Jeremy Sharfe, a 26-year-old Louisvillian who I hooked up with outside the downtown Marriott, where two long lines of people, umbrellas guarding them from a cold, steady drizzle, slowly worked their way into the hotel.Besides working as a full-time substitute teacher and playing in bands, Sharfe portrays Billy Bat for Louisville’s Triple-A baseball team and works with a mascot company that tours the country. Holding a large framed snapshot of him with Sen. Obama, taken during last year’s rally at Slugger Field in support of Democratic Congressional candidate John Yarmuth, Sharfe noted that he hasn’t picked his candidate yet.“I’m doing my research now,” he said. For the record, the 25-minute speech, delivered to a crowd that seemed evenly split between white and black, was impressive, with Obama laying out a specific timetable for pulling out of Iraq, advocating for universal health care and insisting that our economy can serve the needs of free trade and fair trade.As he concluded, I spied Sharfe near the stage, hoping to get the photograph signed. It didn’t work out for him; the Senator quickly walked over to the throng by the side of the stage, shaking hands and apologizing for not having time to sign. As quickly as he came, he was gone out the back door, to meet local TV reporters and attend a $500-a-plate private dinner.Not counting the private gathering, the event raised some $75,000, not bad for a quick trip down the highway. And while Kentucky doesn’t figure to impact next year’s presidential primaries, the event probably scored points for several local operatives, who’ll be more likely to get their calls returned in the event of an Obama win next February, when they won’t have to be so cautious about expressing their undying love. —Cary StemleMSD appeals part of whistleblower verdictThe Metropolitan Sewer District is appealing part of a verdict in a case brought by a former employee and contractor who claimed they were laid off in retaliation for a report they’d filed with the Attorney General. The jury ruled Jan. 24 that MSD and its executive director, Bud Schardein, violated the Kentucky Whistleblower Act by laying off engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham and terminating the contract of inspector Ronald Barber. Cunningham filed a report in May 2004 citing what she considered ethical and perhaps legal transgressions on the part of MSD, Metro Councilman Bob Henderson and his aide, Larry Mattingly, and a former MSD Board member, William Gray (now deceased) on a capital project in South Louisville. Barber gave information to Cunningham for the report.While the jury decided that MSD indeed violated the law, it didn’t award any punitive damages, and only gave compensatory damages ($35,000) to Barber. MSD’s appeal argues that the state whistleblower law shouldn’t protect Barber because he was a contractor, not a government employee. A voicemail message left at MSD was not returned by press time. The agency, funded through ratepayer dollars and bonds, called the verdict a victory immediately following its issuance. It has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars thus far on the case. —Stephen GeorgeHoly Rat SnackersWhen KFC launched its new Catholic Snacker Lenten fish sandwich recently, its PR team audaciously asked Pope Benedict XVI for his endorsement. The company had the chutzpah to ask the pontiff for a papal blessing because, in the words of KFC marketing, “the new sandwich could make it easier and more affordable for Catholics to observe the tenets of their faith.” Never mind that the point of avoiding meat during Lent is to sacrifice in order to identify with Jesus’ suffering, not to cram little fried squares of processed pollock down one’s piehole. Meanwhile, KFC probably hopes the Vatican’s Internet connection was down last week because YouTube was busting at the seams with video clips of a rat-infested KFC/Taco Bell store in New York City. The video showed morbidly obese trans-rats crawling all over the closed store’s furniture, counters and floors, snacking on extra crispy droppings left behind by customers and employees, to the delight of NYC TV news anchors. Shocked! Those anchors were shocked! Perhaps they shouldn’t be too quick to judge, though. After all, KFC was actually using a slow-acting poison on those rats: menu items. —Jim WelpLEO culpaIn a Strobe item last week we reported that Leslie Holland, a former staffer for gubernatorial candidate Steve Henry, said she’d been paid out of an account Henry set up to explore a possible Senate bid, which would be illegal. Holland never said she was paid out of that account; rather, it was inferred. LEO apologizes for the error. Check out daily Strobe at The Lip: LEO’s News Blog, at www.leoweekly.com. Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com