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Wasilla gadfly swirls in a storm

COLUMN ONE

The world beat a digital path to Anne Kilkenny's door after her critique of Sarah Palin hit the Web.

September 30, 2008|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

WASILLA, ALASKA — The woman behind the infamous e-mail that aired criticisms of Sarah Palin to millions across the cyber-globe sat at a computer screen scrolling through unread messages, as dozens more popped into her inbox.

"Let's see, what is the next one?" Anne Kilkenny said with a smile, killing time before her family attended a Saturday evening church service. She clicked and skimmed the words: "Hateful liar."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, October 04, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 85 words Type of Material: Correction
Sarah Palin e-mail: An article in Tuesday's Section A about Anne Kilkenny, a local government watchdog in Wasilla, Alaska, whose e-mailed critique of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin ended up posted widely on the Internet, reported that the e-mail was 24,000 words. It was 2,400 words. The article also reported Kilkenny's age as 57; she is 59. Her son Leif's name was misspelled as Lief, and he is 18, not 17. It also said her driveway was made of concrete. It is made of asphalt.

She opened the next one: "I think you are nothing more than disgruntled and jealous in some way!! Be truthful now. Are you pro-abortion? For gay marriages? Embryonic stem cell research? Euthanasia?"

"Blah, blah, blah, blah," Kilkenny said, chuckling and shaking her head, moving on to the next e-mail: "Get your own life Anne and leave hers alone."

"Shame on you Anne Kilkenny, that is if you really do exist!" one person wrote. "You are probably fake."

Kilkenny, 57, lives with her husband and son in a one-level home surrounded by raspberry bushes, crab apple trees, birch and fireweed. She speaks in a high-pitched voice, cheerful as a grade school teacher, pausing for deep breaths between thoughts. She parts her steel gray hair down the middle, wears ankle-length skirts, irons meticulously and grows potatoes and asparagus in her backyard.

After Sen. John McCain named Palin, the governor of Alaska and former mayor of Wasilla, as his Republican vice presidential running mate on Aug. 29, friends of Kilkenny's in other states began asking, "What do you know about her?" Two days later, Kilkenny decided to set down her observations about Palin in a 24,000-word sober critique, e-mailed to 40 of her friends in the Lower 48.

Kilkenny wrote that she knew the governor's family and had witnessed Palin's political career take off. She wrote that Palin was ruthless in firing staff and did not tolerate those who opposed her. She talked of Palin's stance as a fiscal conservative during her six years as mayor of Wasilla and her spending decisions.

"Dear friends," Kilkenny wrote. "So many people have asked me about what I know about Sarah Palin in the last 2 days that I decided to write something up. Basically, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have only 2 things in common: their gender and their good looks."

Kilkenny told her friends to feel free to pass her e-mail along, but asked: "Please do not post it on any websites as there are too many kooks out there."

She never could have predicted what followed after she hit "send:" More than 13,700 e-mails flooded her inbox.

Her friends passed the letter to strangers who posted it on Facebook pages, blogs and websites, resulting in more than 538,000 Google hits under Kilkenny's name.

Her essay brought a flurry of questions from across the world. Who is Anne Kilkenny? Is she credible? Why did she write about Palin?

Kilkenny e-mails from a Hotmail account using a slow dial-up Internet connection and didn't know what a blog was until recently. In local government circles, Kilkenny is what some might call a gadfly, keeping stacks of newspaper clippings on her kitchen table and file folders full of city ordinances, city codes and government memos.

For the last decade the homemaker has been a fixture at City Council meetings, showing up well-versed in governmental procedures, sometimes wearing a flower tucked in her hair.

It was Kilkenny's firsthand experience with Palin -- who was elected to the council in 1992 and became Wasilla's mayor in 1996 -- that inspired her to craft the e-mail that made her famous.

"I wanted people to be informed," Kilkenny said. "I wasn't trying to make a judgment call."

--

A 70-foot-long and 30-foot-wide smooth slab of concrete fans out from the garage of Kilkenny's home to the street. She glances through the window of her tidy kitchen plastered in dandelion-yellow and pumpkin-orange wallpaper. Most of what she knows about local politics started with her fight to pave that driveway.

Until then, Kilkenny rarely paid attention to city issues, though she did vote to put Palin on the City Council. Four years later, the city of Wasilla announced it was going to pave Kilkenny's street.

She had a fondness for municipal development because her father had been a civil engineer. The family used to drive around their neighborhood in Contra Costa County, Calif., to check out new building projects.

Kilkenny sketched a drawing of how she wanted her driveway apron to look and showed it to planning officials. It was rejected because the footprint was too wide.

"They said, 'You can only have 12 feet,' " Kilkenny said.

At a council meeting, an attorney told her the only way to appeal the ordinance was to rewrite it.

So she did.

Kilkenny showed up at each City Council meeting with her typed driveway ordinance, trying to get it approved. The sessions were held inside a refurbished high school gymnasium. Six council members sat around a horseshoe-shaped table; in the center was Palin, often chewing a wad of gum.

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