April 21, 2010

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

Originally, officials with Yum! Brands claimed they weren’t interested in naming the downtown arena, but a corporation built on indulgence can’t be expected to pass on such a huge waterfront advertisement. The Louisville-based fast food company has signed a $13.5 million, 10-year contract that allows them to dub the building “KFC Yum! Center,” helping pay off debt on the $238 million facility.

Though there may have been a collective eye-roll when the naming rights were first announced, city officials are pleased that the project is taking another step forward with its financing and operation.

“It sure needed a name and it sure needed millions of dollars associated with it,” says Metro Council President Tom Owen, D-8, a member of the Arena Authority.

“With the naming rights, we’re not looking for something that’s poetic, not something historic or necessarily that honors someone,” he says. “In the real world, you’re looking to sell the name.”

The naming is sure to cause a rumble in Metro government’s ongoing beef with members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who are royally pissed.

“By all rights, the stadium should be made out of chicken bones, and the bond that’s being floated to finance this should be doubled in order to pay for the extra health-care costs that result from eating all the artery-clogging, cancer-linked carcasses of small, tortured birds slated to be sold inside it,” PETA said in a statement.

Earlier this year, LEO Weekly reported that PETA has spent months unsuccessfully seeking a permit to set up a 5-and-a-half-foot tall, 250-pound wood-and-fiberglass crippled chicken statue that proclaims “KFC Cripples Chickens.”

The organization alleges the city has violated their First Amendment rights by routinely denying the request and constantly changing application rules.

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The unexpected resignation of Denise Bentley — former Metro councilwoman and Louisville alderwoman — from Jim King’s mayoral campaign was as a small distraction, but overall the departure lifts a weight off the Democratic councilman’s shoulders.

Last week, Bentley, who represented the council’s 1st District until 2005, cited professional, philosophical and ethical differences with the campaign. She later said her decision to quit was based on King not being as committed to the African-American community as she had expected.

“It started when Jim decided not to participate in the Urban League and NAACP mayoral forum a few months ago. That really disturbed me,” says Bentley, adding that she fought with campaign staff to get a media budget for outreach in minority communities. “Maybe I’m being ultra-sensitive, but if you’re ignoring those voters right now, what’s going to happen if you’re put in office? That was the sticking point with me.”

According to Bentley, none of the mayoral candidates are addressing specific solutions regarding the city’s black population.

According to the latest mayoral poll, Councilman David Tandy, D-4, who if elected would be the city’s first black mayor, leads the Democratic field among African-American voters with a commanding 46 percent. King trails with 13 percent of the black vote.

The King campaign will not comment on the resignation, but supporters are quick to point out the councilman spent many initial meetings courting voters in west Louisville and running radio advertisements targeting African-American audiences.

It didn’t help Bentley’s cause within the King campaign that a number of black elected officials, ministers and business leaders said her presence was hurting King among voters, particularly in the West End.

At least one outspoken critic and former colleague of Bentley, state Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, sent a letter to Councilman King, explicitly warning him about her recent political freelancing.

Last month, Bentley spearheaded the wet-dry vote in a 19-block section of the Parkland neighborhood where alcohol sales had long been prohibited. She canvassed the area for signatures, saying she was concerned about the lagging retail in west Louisville, arguing that allowing the sale of liquor would help reverse that trend. Voters overturned the ban on April 6.

According to The Courier-Journal, a handful of residents said Bentley told them that signing the petition to put the question on the ballot would bring a Wal-Mart to the area. Bentley told the C-J residents might have misunderstood what she said.

“People clearly connected Ms. Bentley’s actions and the perceived underhanded nature of her actions with regards to the wet-dry vote,” says Meeks, who is supporting Tandy for mayor. “And they clearly made the connection that she was at that time working for King. And I felt it was important for King to know this.”

Bentley rose to prominence before city and county governments merged in 2003 as the first black woman to be elected as president of the Louisville Board of Alderman.

The explanation for her fall from grace in the black community has compounded over the years, but critics note she supported Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16 for council president, endorsed then-U.S. Rep. Anne Northup for re-election and left the council to work for Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher back in 2005.

Other area Democrats and black leaders, however, have committed similar acts of political heresy without such a severe backlash.

The big difference has been Bentley’s controversial endeavors as a political consultant on other local campaigns, which has earned her the reputation as a dirty campaigner and a lightning rod that the King campaign won’t miss.

“What I do know,” says Meeks, “is that the community recognizes it’s one of a series of issues that have come up where Ms. Bentley has taken positions that have been adverse to the interest of the African-American community.”