Thursday, September 11, 2008

Civic Leader in Palin's Hometown Paints Unflattering Portrait of Alaska Governor

In a Lengthy Essay, Anne Kilkenny Sharply Challenges GOP Vice-Presidential Nominee's Claim of Being a Fiscal Conservative; Says Palin Bloated Wasilla's Budget by Over 33 Percent -- and Raised Taxes by 38 Percent -- in a Multi-Million-Dollar Spending Spree During Her Stormy Six-Year Tenure as Mayor

Anne Kilkenny of Wasilla, who participated in the Conference of Alaskans in 2004, said she didn't mean for her e-mail appraisal of Sarah Palin to be spread, but it was all over the Internet soon after she sent it to family and friends the day after John McCain picked Palin as his GOP  vice-presidential running mate.

Anne Kilkenny, a longtime resident of Governor Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, is a longtime civic leader and observer of local politics who has known the governor and former mayor for 16 years. In a reply to numerous requests from relatives and friends from outside the state for information on Palin the day after John McCain picked her as his GOP vice-presidential running mate, Kilkenny wrote a lengthy e-mail appraisal of her that wasn't intended to be made public. But after she e-mailed it to her relatives, it spread like wildfire across the Internet and generated a tsunami of responses. (Photo: Erik Hill/Anchorage Daily News)

(Posted 5 a.m. Thursday, September 11, 2008)


Anchorage Daily News

WASILLA, Alaska -- At 3 a.m. last Thursday, Anne Kilkenny unglued herself from her computer and went to bed after spending hours answering an endless string of e-mails from strangers.

By 9:15 the next morning, she had 382 fresh ones in her inbox and her phone was steadily ringing with calls from news media from all around the world.

That's how it's been the past week for the stay-at-home mom turned accidental celebrity. All because of a letter she wrote to friends and family about Sarah Palin.


The 2,400-word e-mail, circulated on blogs, Web sites and through e-mail chains, has become an Internet hit embraced by many Democrats and Palin critics and attacked by Republicans and Palin supporters [The Kilkenny e-mail appears in full below.].

In all the coverage of Palin, the Kilkenny e-mail offers something maybe unique: a critique from someone who has known Palin since 1992 and has been observing her up close for years, long before Palin even became widely known in Alaska.

"Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a first-name basis," the e-mail begins. "Our children have attended the same schools. Her father was my child's favorite substitute teacher. I also am on a first name basis with her parents and mother-in-law. I attended more City Council meetings during her administration than about 99 percent of the residents of the city."

Kilkenny, a registered Democrat, sent the note on August 30, the day after Republican presidential candidate John McCain picked Palin to be his vice-presidential running mate. She said she sent it to 30 relatives and friends outside Alaska to answer questions she was getting about Palin.

She signed her name and asked that it not be posted, but it went viral across the Internet almost instantly.


Within a day, she was getting e-mails from strangers saying, "I saw your blog."

"I was like, 'Blog? What blog?' " Kilkenny said.

Over the past week, Kilkenny's e-mail has been posted, re-posted and re-posted again -- everywhere from the Atlantic Monthly to a blog called "earthymommies."

By mid-week, Kilkenny had given up keeping up with her e-mails. "I didn't drink my morning cup of coffee until 3:20 in the afternoon," she said.

A Google search for "Kilkenny Palin" on Saturday turned up 21,000 hits. She's been interviewed by National Public Radio and The New York Times. TV news producers have been scrambling to find her.


Crosscut, a Seattle-based online journalism site, is among those who have picked up the e-mail. Publisher David Brewster, who was e-mailed the letter by a friend, said he was struck by Kilkenny's tone and her firsthand experience from attending city council meetings while Palin was mayor.

"Here's a person who didn't just jet in and talk to three people on one day, but has been in the town and watched it very carefully," he said.

The letter also lacked the strident tone many adopt, he said.

"It didn't have a sort of prosecutorial throw-everything-at-her [Palin] tone," he said. "It was kind of an ordinary citizen activist trying to be fair and trying to be candid."

Kilkenny said she tried hard to be factual and is careful in the letter to be upfront about what she knows and doesn't know. Her experience comes from being a longtime Wasilla resident and from attending almost every City Council meeting the first year Palin was mayor in 1996.

She said she worked and reworked the letter to add things as people have asked more questions, deleted things that sounded too much like speculation and tried to keep it balanced with both positive and negative information.

"It's not to make her look bad. It's not to make her look good. It's just to make her what she is," she said.


In the letter, she lauds the former mayor as smart, hardworking and savvy. But, she says, far from being a fiscal conservative, Palin left Wasilla in debt, was intolerant of "divergent opinions" and "has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help."

Much of what Kilkenny states has been pointed out by others in news stories. Palin, on the national pulpit, has lauded herself as a fiscal conservative who cut government budgets. But as mayor and governor she presided over growing budgets. Some of her information has received less attention.

As mayor, as Kilkenny notes, Palin benefited enormously from a sales tax passed by the previous mayor John Stein, whom she defeated in a bitter campaign in which she derided him as a "good ole boy." That sales tax, passed to fund the police force, left the city flush with so much cash Palin was able to cut property taxes and still have revenues increase.

Some of the claims are hard to substantiate, including that Palin tried to fire the city librarian because she refused to consider removing books from the shelves. Palin did send a termination letter to the librarian, but it was unclear whether books were involved in that decision. At the time, Palin noted the librarian had supported her opponent in the election.

Kilkenny also admits some of what she says is open to interpretation. While she notes, for example, that Palin increased city expenditures, others in online comments have noted that the local population was exploding at the time so the budget naturally grew.


Kilkenny says many of the e-mails she's received want to know if she is for real.

"'Are you you?' they ask," she said.

While most has been positive, a small minority has been critical, she said.

"Wow. Did Palin steel [sic] your man or what?" one wrote to her.

"You have an agenda and you should go to hell," wrote another.

Others have accused her of being a tool for the Democrats. She is a longtime registered Democrat, BUT She said her motivation in writing the letter was simply for people to be informed.

"How's anyone to know if the people who do know don't say anything?" she said.

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(The following is the full text of Anne Kilkenny's much-talked-about e-mail about her hometown's former Mayor -- now Governor -- Sarah Palin, the GOP vice-presidential nominee. It is being presented by The 'Skeeter Bites Report as a public service for those who may not have read it. -- Skeeter Sanders, Editor & Publisher)



I am a resident of Wasilla, Alaska. I have known Sarah Palin since 1992. Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a first-name basis.

Our children have attended the same schools. Her father was my child's favorite substitute teacher. I also am on a first name basis with her parents and mother-in-law. I attended more City Council meetings during her administration than about 99 percent of the residents of the city.

She is enormously popular; in every way she's like the most popular girl in middle school. Even men who think she is a poor choice and won't vote for her can't quit smiling when talking about her because she is a "babe."

It is astonishing and almost scary how well she can keep a secret. She kept her most recent pregnancy a secret from her children and parents for seven months.

She is "pro-life." She recently gave birth to a Down's Syndrome baby. There is no cover-up involved, here; Trig is her baby.

She is energetic and hardworking. She regularly worked out at the gym.

She is savvy. She doesn't take positions; she just "puts things out there" and if they prove to be popular, then she takes credit.

Her husband works a union job on the North Slope for BP and is a champion snowmobile racer. Todd Palin's kind of job is highly sought-after because of the schedule and high pay.

He arranges his work schedule so he can fish for salmon in Bristol Bay for a month or so in summer, but by no stretch of the imagination is fishing their major source of income. Nor has her life-style ever been anything like that of native Alaskans.

Sarah and her whole family are avid hunters.

She's smart. Her experience is as mayor of a city with a population of about 5,000 (at the time) and less than two years as governor of a state with about 670,000 residents.


During her mayoral administration, most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a "fiscal conservative". But during her six years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33 percent. During those same six years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38 percent.

This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002).

She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents.

The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren't enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million.

What did Mayor Palin encourage the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? or a new library? No.


$1 million for a park. $15 million-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece of property that the city didn't even have clear title to, that was still in litigation seven years later -- to the delight of the lawyers involved!

The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community, but it's a huge money pit, not the profit-generator Palin claimed it would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5 million for road projects that could have been done in five to seven years without any borrowing.

While Palin was mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled and her office redecorated more than once.

These are small numbers, but Wasilla is a very small city.


As an oil producer, the high price of oil has created a budget surplus in Alaska. But rather than invest this surplus in technology that will make us energy independent and increase efficiency, as governor, Palin proposed distribution of this surplus to every individual in the state.

In this time of record state revenues and budget surpluses, Governor Palin recommended that the state borrow/bond for road projects, even while she proposed distribution of surplus state revenues: spend today's surplus, borrow for needs.

Palin's not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise. As mayor, she fought ideas that weren't generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren't evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.


While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla, she tried to fire our highly respected city librarian because the librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed.

City residents rallied to the defense of the librarian and against Palin's attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the librarian are on her "enemies" list to this day.

Sarah complained about the "old boy's club" when she first ran for Mayor, so what did she bring Wasilla? A new set of "old boys." Palin fired most of the experienced staff she inherited.

At City Hall and as governor, she hired or elevated new, inexperienced, obscure people, creating a staff totally dependent on her for their jobs and eternally grateful and fiercely loyal -- loyal to the point of abusing their power to further her personal agenda, as she has acknowledged happened in the case of pressuring the state's top cop.

As mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla's police chief because he "intimidated" her, she told the press. As governor, her recent firing of Alaska's top cop has the ring of familiarity about it.


He served at her pleasure and she had every legal right to fire him, but it's pretty clear that an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn't fire her sister's ex-husband, a state trooper.

Under investigation for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than two dozen contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she later fired [Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan], pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law [Michael Wooten].

She tried to replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew her support.


Sarah has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help. The City Council member who personally escorted her around town introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of her first targets when she was later elected mayor.

She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn't like the guy were stunned by her ruthlessness.Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.

When then-Governor [Frank] Murkowski was handing out political plums, Sarah got the best, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: one of the few jobs not in Juneau and one of the best paid. She had no background in oil and gas issues.

But within months of scoring this great job -- which paid $122,400 a year -- Sarah was complaining in the press about the high salary! I was told that she hated that job -- the commute, the structured hours, the work.


Sarah became aware that a member of this commission (who was also the state chair of the Republican Party) engaged in unethical behavior on the job. In a gutsy move which some undoubtedly cautioned her could be political suicide, Sarah solved all her problems in one fell swoop: she got out of the job she hated and garnered gobs of media attention as the patron saint of ethics and as a gutsy fighter against the "old boys' club" when she dramatically quit, exposing this man's ethics violations (for which he was fined).

As mayor, Sarah had her hand stuck out as far as anyone for pork from Senator Ted Stevens. Lately, she has castigated his pork-barrel politics and publicly humiliated him.

She only opposed the "bridge to nowhere" after it became clear that it would be unwise not to.

As governor, Palin gave the Legislature no direction or budget guidelines, then made a big grandstand display of line-item vetoing projects, calling them "pork." Public outcry and further legislative action restored most of these projects, which Palin vetoed simply because she was not aware of their importance.

But to the unobservant, she had gained a reputation as "anti-pork."

Sarah is solidly Republican; no political maverick. The state GOP leaders hate her because she has bit them in the back and humiliated them. Other members of the party object to her self-description as a "fiscal conservative."


Around Wasilla there are people who went to high school with Sarah. They call her "Sarah Barracuda" because of her unbridled ambition and predatory ruthlessness.

Long before she became so powerful, very ugly stories circulated around town about shenanigans she pulled to be made point guard on the high school basketball team. When Sarah's mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and experienced manager, ran for mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her.

As governor, Sarah stepped outside of the box and put together of package of legislation known as AGIA [Alaska Gas Inducement Act] that forced the oil companies to march to the beat of her drum.


Like most Alaskans, Palin favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She has questioned if the loss of sea ice is linked to global warming. She campaigned "as a private citizen" against a state initiaitive that would have either a) protected salmon streams from pollution from mines, or b) tied up in the courts all mining in the state (depending on who you listen to).

She pushed the state's lawsuit against the federal Interior Department's decision to list polar bears as threatened species.

McCain is the oldest person to ever run for president. Think about that. If McCain wins, Sarah will be a heartbeat away from being president.

There have to be literally millions of Americans who are more knowledgeable and experienced than she is.

However, there are a lot of people who have underestimated her and are regretting it.


"Hockey mom": True for a few years

"PTA mom": True years ago when her first-born was in elementary school, not since.

"NRA supporter": Absolutely true.

"Social conservative: Mixed. Opposes gay marriage, but vetoed a bill that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships (She said she did this because it was unconstitutional).

"Pro-creationism: Mixed. Supports it, but did nothing as governor to promote it.

"Pro-life": Mixed. Knowingly gave birth to a Down's Syndrome baby but declined to call a special legislative session on some pro-life legislation.

"Experienced": Some high schools have more students than Wasilla has residents. Many cities have more residents than the state of Alaska. No legislative experience other than City Council. Little hands-on supervisory or managerial experience; needed help of a city administrator to run town of about 5,000.

"Political maverick": Not at all.

"Gutsy": Absolutely!

"Open & transparent": Are you kidding??? Good at keeping secrets. Not good at explaining actions.

Sarah has a developed philosophy of public policy:

Greenie? No way. She turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big-box stores and disconnected parking lots. She's pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR.

Fiscal conservative? Not by my definition!

Pro-infrastructure? Nope. Promoted a sports complex and park in a city without a sewage treatment plant or storm drainage system. Built streets to early 20th century standards.

Pro-tax relief? Lowered taxes for businesses, increased tax burden on residents.

Pro-small government? No. Oversaw greatest expansion of city government in Wasilla's history.

Pro-labor/pro-union? No. Just because her husband works union doesn't make her pro-labor. I have seen nothing to support any claim that she is pro-labor/pro-union.


First, I have long believed in the importance of being an informed voter. I am a voter registrar. For 10 years, I put on student voting programs in the schools. If you Google my name (Anne Kilkenny + Alaska), you will find references to my participation in local government, education, and PTA/parent organizations.

Second, I've always operated in the belief that "Bad things happen when good people stay silent." Few people know as much about Sarah Palin as I do because few have gone to as many City Council meetings.

Third, I am just a housewife. I don't have a job she can bump me out of. I don't belong to any organization that she can hurt. But, I am no fool; she is immensely popular here, and it is likely that this will cost me somehow in the future. That's life.

Fourth, Sarah has hated me since back in 1996, when I was one of the 100 or so people who rallied to support the city librarian against her attempt at censorship.

Fifth, I looked around and realized that everybody else was afraid to say anything because they were somehow vulnerable.


I am not a statistician. I developed the numbers for the increase in spending and taxation two years ago -- when Palin was running for governor -- from information supplied to me by the Finance Director of the City of Wasilla, and I can't recall exactly what I adjusted for. Did I adjust for inflation? for population increases?

Right now, it is impossible for a private person to get any info out of City Hall -- they're swamped. So I can't verify my numbers.

You may have noticed that there are various numbers circulating for the population of Wasilla, ranging from about 5,000, up to 9,000. The day Palin's election victory was announced a city official told me that the current population is about 7,000.

The official 2000 census count was 5,460. I have used about 5,000 because Palin was mayor from 1996 to 2002 and the city was growing rapidly in the mid-90's.

Anne Kilkenny,August 31, 2008

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Volume III, Number 54
Special Report Copyright 2008, McClatchy Newspapers Inc.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.



Anonymous said...

After my initial joy at seeing a woman up for the position of Vice my observation and research of Mrs. Palin, leads me to conclude that she is not right or ready for the position, and particularly not for the presidency. We are fools if we again ignore unsuitability in our choice this election. It is an election for our country's very survival and much too important to entrust to her inexperience or lead to a virtual novice such as Mrs. Palin as the President. First of all her experience on global matters is nil. She has no diplomacy experience, budget or administrative experience or a record to prove otherwise. Despite what the McCain camp and media are throwing at us to make her seem full-packaged, Mrs. Palin is not. We are asking someone who is not even sure what the vice-president does to be the head of the Senate. She's small-town politics and the more experienced, politically savy and crafty in Washington would eat her for lunch. She needs extensive training that America cannot afford to give her; the times are too important. So, as much as I love the idea of a fellow female as Vice president, SORRY, NOT SARAH PALIN, NOT TODAY. McCain's choice of Vice has unfortunately cost him my support.