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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Rechtin challenges incumbent Pendery for Campbell County judge executive

About Campbell County:

Campbell is the easternmost of the three Northern Kentucky counties that border the Ohio River at Cincinnati. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the 2013 population at nearly 91,000. There are 15 cities in the county; and it also includes substantial amounts of rural areas and farm land. According to the 2010 Census, the median household income from 2008 to 2012 was $53,580, compared to the statewide average of $42,610.

The judge executive is the chief executive officer of the county, charged with the day-to-day operation of county offices and services. He is a member of the county Fiscal Court, which is also made up of three county commissioners. The job pays $105,596 a year, as set by state statute.

The candidates:

Steve Pendery (Republican)

For an elected official who has held the office of judge executive for nearly 16 years, the dominant images on his campaign literature and website are not about public policy.

The images are of family - his own family – his wife, Dana, his son Chase, who is in the U.S. Air Force; and daughter Allie, a freshman at the University of Kentucky.

Yes, there are, on the website and in the mail pieces, charts showing that Campbell County has one of the lowest rates of government spending per resident in Northern Kentucky and statements saying that Campbell County has put over 300 heroin dealers behind bars.

But the dominant images of the campaign are of family. His re-election campaign has a simple theme – “Campbell County: A Great Place to Raise a Family.”

“This has been my home all my life,’’ the 60-year-old Republican told WVXU. “This is where my wife and I have raised our children. I can’t imagine any place I’d rather be.”

He has spent more than half his life in elective office – 15 years as a Fort Thomas councilman and mayor; and the rest as the county’s judge executive – it’s chief executive officer.

Pendery also co-owns an insurance business with his brother. It is a family business; he went to work for his grandfather at the insurance agency after he earned his law degree at Ohio State University.

His life, Pendery said, doesn’t leave him a lot of leisure time.

“I’m a busy boy, but what time I do have I like to spend with my family,’’ Pendery said. “That’s harder now that the kids are off on their own.”

And he is a great fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ football team, which puts him in a distinct minority within the Commonwealth.

“I know that’s a little misplaced having lived in Kentucky all my life,’’ Pendery said. “ But that’s where I went to school. That’s a passion.”

When he does have down time, he is an avid reader – historical fiction and science fiction are his favorites.

Running now for a fifth four-year term as judge executive, Pendery said he takes his job seriously.

“It’s more than just being the CEO of the county,’’ he said. “I see this job as being an ambassador for Campbell County to the rest of the world. That’s why I spend so much of my time meeting with other elected officials in Kentucky, talking to legislators about the needs of the county. I try to represent the county well to the world outside our boundaries.”

His opponent, Democrat Ken Rechtin, a Campbell County commissioner, has criticized Pendery for not spending enough time at the judge executive’s office, saying that most of the time when he wants to reach Pendery about county business, he calls him at the insurance business.

Pendery bristles at the notion.

“He’s flat wrong,’’ Pendery said. “I help out at the insurance business. I don’t spend that much time there.

“Sitting in an office all the time is not how you be an executive,’’ Pendery said. “Most of my time is spent out in the community, going to meetings, talking to people. It’s not an office job.”

And, he says, he is accessible to citizens. His campaign literature lists his home phone number – something unusual for a politician. Rechtin does something similar – he lists his personal cell phone number on campaign literature.

“My home phone number is out there for anybody to use,’’ Pendery said. “And I take the calls. Sometimes they’re not always pleasant, but, for the most part, it’s fine. It’s part of the job.”

Pendery is proud of what he says he has accomplished in his tenure as judge executive.

The county, he said, had a $2 million deficit when he took over and now has a surplus of over $8 million.

He said he has been able to achieve consolidation of some services in a county that includes 15 cities, including dispatch services, the Office of Emergency Management, and water rescue.

Campbell County, Pendery said, was hit hard by the recession of the last decade, but is coming out of it strong.

“It wasn’t a whole lot of fun being in local government during the recession,’’ Pendery said. “But now that things have improved, a lot of the potentials that we have had have become realities.

“On the development side, I think we’ve been a success story,’’ Pendery said. “We have a great story to tell.

He said the Ovation project, a mixed-use development of retail and condominiums in Newport, at the confluence of the Ohio and Licking rivers, “is on its way to becoming a reality.”

So too is the Manhattan Harbor project, a $400 million development of single-family homes in Dayton. The Arcadia project in Alexandria will build 1,000 new homes.

“I think we’ve made substantial progress in Campbell County, despite the recession,’’ Pendery said. “Of course, I don’t take credit for all this myself. Hundred of people are involved. It’s people working together cooperatively that makes things happen.

“We can’t compete where we are not well-placed to compete,’’ Pendery said. “We can’t compete with the large industrial park along the interstate in Kenton and Boone counties. But we have Northern Kentucky University; and it is an economic driver for the county.”

Campbell County, Pendery said, “is in a unique situation.”

“At one end of the county, we are right across the river from world class amenities, from professional sports to incredible museums and attractions,’’ Pendery said. “And you can drive 15 minutes down Route 27 and be in farmland in the middle of nowhere.

“This county is unique,’’ Pendery said. “And that’s they way we like it.”

Ken Rechtin (Democrat)

The 64-year-old Newport Democrat, a lifelong resident of Campbell County, has had many titles and varied experiences in his life.

Husband, father and grandfather rank at the top of the list.

But as a young man, the Covington Latin School graduate studied for a year and a half at St. Pius X Seminary, leaving when he decided that the calling of priesthood was not for him. He worked a variety of jobs – at the Ling Bakery in Dayton, the Campbell Lodge Home for Boys, and St. Rita School for the Deaf in Evendale, where he met his wife of 40 years Tina.

After graduating from Northern Kentucky University with a biology degree in 1976 – 10 years after leaving high school – he worked in the banking business and recently retired as the interim director of Campbell County Senior Services.

In addition to their home in Newport, he and his wife have a small farm in the southern end of the county, where he tends to bees, goats and chickens.

“I have had a great life,’’ Rechtin said. “A great family and work that has been satisfying and fulfilling. What more could you ask?”

Politics has been a major part of that life – nine years as a Newport city commissioner and as a Campbell County Commissioner since 2003.

He is running against a Republican in Steve Pendery who is running for a fifth four-year term as the county’s judge executive – the chief executive officer of the county and the one responsible for the day-to-day operations of county government.

Of the three Northern Kentucky counties, Campbell is probably the friendliest territory for Democratic candidates, although it is still considered part of the Northern Kentucky Republican stronghold. Two years ago, 60 percent of Campbell County voters cast ballots for Republican Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.

Rechtin told WVXU that when he was thinking about making a run for judge executive, he asked a friend who is a business owner if he should do it.

“He said, ‘Well, Ken, it’s about time!’’’ Rechtin said. “So that’s the campaign slogan I’ve adopted – ‘It’s About Time.’ Time for a change.”

“There is a common belief in Northern Kentucky that Democrats can’t win,’’ Rechtin told WVXU. “But, this year, we have a full slate of Democratic candidates in the county.”

Rechtin said that, if elected, he will be a full-time judge executive. That, he said, is unlike his opponent, who is co-owner of his family’s insurance business.

“The judge executive is truly the CEO of the county,’’ Rechtin said. “It is not a job you can designate others to do.”

Rechtin said that as he campaigns at events and knocks on voters’ doors – he says he’s personally visited 5,000 homes during the campaign – he talks about three things: “Commitment, experience and vision.”

On commitment, he says that the judge executive job “is not a matter of 40 hours and you’re done. It’s a matter of 80 or 100 hours much of the time.”

“I’ve got a calendar on Microsoft Outlook,’’ Rechtin said. “If I am elected, that calendar is going to be online and will be open to everyone to see.

“People will be able to look at my calendar and say, ‘Oh, Ken’s meeting with some mayors’ or ‘Ken is in his office now,’’’ Rechtin said. “I want people to know where I am and what I am doing.”

He is doing something in this campaign that is highly unusual in politics, at any level. His campaign literature – the mail pieces and the pieces handed out as he goes door-to-door all contain his personal cell phone number.

“Anyone can call me,’’ Rechtin said. “I want to be available to people. That is the kind of judge executive I will be.”

Pendery has a similar thing on his campaign literature – his home phone number.

As for experience, Rechtin said he has plenty; and not only in government and politics.

“I’ve been in the business world; I’ve worked in the world of non-profits; I’ve served in local government; I have over 20 years of experience in local government,’’ Rechtin. “And I know this county, from one end of this county to the other.”

As for vision, Rechtin said he believes “the status quo is not good enough.”

“This is a very diverse county, from urban areas to rural farmland,’’ Rechtin said. “There are areas of this county that need to be protected from development coming in; and there are areas that need help with re-developing.”

The county, he said, needs more jobs; and he does not believe the Tri-County Economic Development Corporation – known as Tri-ED – has done enough to bring jobs to the county.

Rechtin said Tri-ED has been responsible for about 11,600 new jobs in the three county region. Only about 500 of them, Rechtin said, were located in Campbell County.

“I want to focus more on growing our existing businesses,’’ Rechtin said.

The federal Small Business Administration, Rechtin said, estimates that 60 percent of the new jobs created in this country come from existing businesses.

Payroll taxes, Rechtin said, account for about 60 percent of the county’s revenue. He said he wants to grow more jobs in the county “so we can decrease or hold property taxes down.”

“I understand regional cooperation and all that goes with it,’’ Rechtin said. “But, if I am elected, I am going to be focused on our county, not the region. That’s the job of a judge executive.”

The issues:

Sanitation District: Rechtin said that when he knocks on voters' doors, he hears more people talking about the Northern Kentucky Sanitation District – known as SD1 – than anything else. SD1 needs to be re-structured, Rechtin said, so Campbell County has more representation on the board. “People are being forced by SD1 to pay for fixing pipes that have broken leading up to their properties. The property owner’s responsibility should end at the curb.” Pendery said rates have gone up substantially for property owners because of the new improvements that have been made, but said they are still much lower than what homeowners pay on the Ohio side of the river. Campbell County, like many local governments, is under a consent decree with the federal government to fix 179 overflow problems. But the county may have more time to fix the problems, which he says will save money. He said SD1 has received national recognition for the money-saving features it proposed which have been built into the consent decree.

Jobs: Pendery said that out of 120 Kentucky counties, only about 10 have created new jobs in the past 20 years, after lost jobs are subtracted out. Campbell, Kenton and Boone counties are in the top 10; and he credits the Tri-County Economic Development Corporation – known as Tri-ED – for that. While many of the new manufacturing jobs have been in Boone County, Pendery said “many people from Campbell County are working there now. You can’t have isolationism among countries, much less counties.” He believes that Tri-ED job creation benefits all three counties, no matter where the businesses are located. Rechtin believes Campbell County is too reliant on Tri-Ed for job creation. There are 1.2 jobs in Boone County for every resident there, while there are only .68 jobs for every Campbell County resident. “Our county economic development director’s job has been vacant for some time,’’ Rechtin said. “I will hire a development director immediately.”

Heroin: It is a growing and serious problem, Pendery said. A secret law enforcement drug strike force is responsible for the arrests of over 300 dealers, Pendery said. A new addition is going to be built to the county jail. “In the jail, there are a lot of people addicted to heroin and other drugs,’’ Pendery said. “We are already paying for their room and board. Shouldn’t that be the place where there is treatment for these people?” Rechtin said he wants to know what the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force is doing. “I’ve been trying to get data on the number of convictions and incarcerations in Campbell County and each of its cities, but I can’t.” Rechtin said he knows it is controversial, but he would like to see a needle exchange program in the county. “If we can get these people to come in, we have a chance to get them help for their addictions,’’ Rechtin said. Rechtin said he believes in the use of methadone and other drugs to get people off heroin.

Brent Spence Bridge: Rechtin said is “completely opposed to tolls” to raise the estimated $2.6 billion it would cost to replace the bridge. “It’s double taxation,’’ Rechtin said. “People are already paying gas taxes.” Rechtin said he liked an idea Sen. Rand Paul proposed last year – that about $15 billion in foreign aid be re-directed to infrastructure repair in the U.S. Pendery said tolls would be the last resort. “First, everybody needs to be convinced that we need a bridge,’’ Pendery said. “The federal government is not going to help; they don’t have earmarks anymore and they don’t have the $2.6 billion it would take to do this. We need to wring all the money out of the legislature in Frankfort that we can. If you get a big enough investment from the two states, the locals may be able to get away scot-free. Tolls are something you talk about at the end of the process, not at the beginning.”

About the candidates:

Ken Rechtin (Democrat)

Age: 64

Residence: Newport

Family: Wife, Tina; sons, Zachary, Crosby and Elliot; daughter, Hannah Bowling; seven grandchildren with an eighth on the way.

Occupation: Campbell County Commissioner. Retired after being interim director of Senior Services of Northern Kentucky. Previous jobs in banking and sales and marketing.

Previous political experience: Nine years as a Newport city commissioner.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology from Northern Kentucky University.

Campaign website:

Steve Pendery (Republican)

Age: 60

Residence: Fort Thomas

Family: Wife, Dana; son, Chase; daughter, Allie

Occupation: Judge executive of Campbell County since 1999, co-owner of Pendery Insurance and Risk Management Group.

Previous experience: Six years as Fort Thomas council member, nine years as Fort Thomas mayor.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from Dennison University, law degree from Ohio State University.

Campaign website:

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.