BYLINE: BEN SMITH
DATE: October 27, 2006
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Gwinnett News
Gwinnett Commissioner Kevin Kenerly sounds as if he’s thinking more about youth football than his own re-election.
His opponent, John Kenney, meanwhile, is running a nearly nonexistent campaign that’s nearly $1,000 in the red.
The once-blistering summer GOP primary campaign for Gwinnett’s 4th District commission seat has grown cold. “You might as well be writing about the ballet,” political consultant Mark Rountree said recently.
Rountree is Kenerly’s political strategist. Last July, he worked overtime to save the GOP incumbent’s career. Now his client’s campaign seems to be running on autopilot.
During the GOP primary campaign, Kenerly’s bid for a fourth term was nearly upended by a secret video recording of the incumbent commissioner gambling with developers at a Las Vegas casino. Copies of the recording were sent to 9,000 voters and various news outlets.
Kenerly eked out a runoff election victory Aug. 8, six days after a grand jury indicted political consultant Bill McKinney and associate Nancy Walter on charges of creating and financing an illegal campaign to mail the recordings to Kenerly constituents. McKinney and Walter say they’re innocent and await trial.
Their court battle seems to be the only action taking place in the 4th District race. “It wouldn’t be interesting at all without the pending court litigation,” said Adam Stone, an associate professor of political science at Georgia Perimeter College in Dunwoody.
But Stone said the court case and the sleepy election could have far-reaching political and legal implications. The battle about whether McKinney’s and Walter’s actions were legal could potentially change state law, Stone said.
Meanwhile, a lackluster turnout among Gwinnett GOP voters could pose problems for various statewide Republican candidates, Stone added.
“Gwinnett is the key,” Stone said. The Kenerly-Kenney contest “might not change things in Gwinnett, but it may be important statewide.”
Kenney, a Democrat and owner of a computer technology company, scored a surprising 40 percent showing in his unsuccessful 2000 campaign against then-commission chairman Wayne Hill, a Republican.
But the 4th District in northern Gwinnett is less friendly to Democrats. Roughly two-thirds of voters there regularly cast Republican ballots.
With 11 days left before the Nov.7 election, Kenney is attempting to refocus the Las Vegas video scandal on Kenerly.
“I don’t think he can say he wasn’t there [in Las Vegas]. I don’t think he can say his developer friends weren’t there. And I don’t think he can say that was a coincidence,” Kenney said.
“I think Kevin Kenerly would make Bill Campbell look like a choirboy,” said Kenney, referring to the former Atlanta mayor recently convicted for tax evasion.
The Kenerly campaign brushes off the comparison and maintains the attacks on the candidate’s Las Vegas trip have been discredited by the indictments.
Kenney, meanwhile, hasn’t found much of a forum in which to make his charges. His most recent campaign contribution disclosure, filed Sept. 30, shows his largely self-funded campaign has a balance of minus $939.
Kenney said he hopes to have his campaign Web site up and running within the next few days.
As for other campaign activity, Kenney said, “We do a little bit of canvassing.”
But Kenney added that he doesn’t have enough time for door-to-door campaigning.
Kenerly said he hasn’t been stumping the district either, though he has hosted a few ice cream socials in local parks.
Much of the incumbent’s attention has been focused on his 7-year-old football players on the Mill Creek Hawks, a team Kenerly coaches. They’re in the playoffs and face the Dacula Falcons on Saturday. The championship takes place in mid-November.
“My little league team is going to take me right to the election,” Kenerly said. “Right now it’s football one day and politics the next.