FRANKFORT — Calling it one of the easiest decisions he has ever made, Gov. Steve Beshear announced on Sunday that longtime Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson will be his running mate for the 2011 governor's race.
Abramson has long been considered the front-runner to replace Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo. Mongiardo announced earlier this year that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Jim Bunning and will not be on the ticket with Beshear in 2011.
Beshear confirmed his re-election intentions and his pick of Abramson on Sunday night in Frankfort. On Monday, the two will make formal announcements of their intention to run in 2011 in Frankfort and Louisville. They will then spend the next two days traveling the state.
"He is a proven leader," Beshear said. "I can't think of anybody with a more proven record of leadership than Jerry Abramson. I am looking forward to having him on my team as a full partner."
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Abramson, 62, is in his 20th year as mayor of Louisville. He served three terms as mayor of the city of Louisville and is in his second term as mayor of the merged Louisville Metro government.
Abramson was his first choice and was the only person whom he approached about the position, Beshear said Sunday.
Abramson said Sunday that it was the chance to run with Beshear that convinced him to leave city government.
"It's his leadership, his friendship, his vision, the success he's had that really ultimately made the decision for Madeline and me to join the Beshear team," Abramson said, referring to his wife.
Abramson and Beshear have known each other for almost 30 years. The two got to know each other when Beshear was attorney general and Abramson was general counsel for then-Gov. John Y. Brown in the 1980s.
If successful in 2011, Abramson might be asked to serve in the administration in addition to his duties as lieutenant governor. But Beshear said Sunday that it's too early to say what that role may be.
"There will be any number of roles that he can play," Beshear said. "I think it is too early to decide whether he will be in particular position."
Abramson will be able to help Beshear raise money and is known as a charismatic politician and salesman, Abramson supporters say.
Abramson has been widely popular during most of his nearly two decades at the helm of Kentucky's largest city and has won various accolades from publications such as Governing and U.S. News & World Report. But Abramson is not without controversy. And some question why Beshear — who polls strongly in Lexington and Louisville — would pick a candidate from the state's largest urban area and not a more rural region.
Some of the state's unions warned Beshear in a July 9 letter not to pick Abramson, citing his sometimes-acrimonious relationships with Louisville unions. Abramson also recently angered African-Americans after telling a Charleston, W.Va., newspaper that before the Louisville-Jefferson County government merger in 2003, the city was "poorer, blacker and older." Abramson has apologized repeatedly for his comments.
Beshear won the governor's race in 2007 with the strong financial support and backing of the state's unions.
Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, said Sunday that a final decision has not been made on which candidate the union will endorse, noting that the 2011 election is still more than two years away.
No other candidates have announced their intention to run.
"We just wanted to make our position known in our letter to the governor," Londrigan said.
Beshear said Sunday said that he and Abramson have had support from organized labor in the past and that he expects that support to continue. Beshear said he appreciated the union's input but that ultimately, the decision on whom he would pick as his running mate was "mine and mine alone."
"This was one of the easiest decisions I've ever made," he said.
Danny Briscoe, a Democratic political consultant, said Abramson brings many positives to the ticket.
"He is charismatic, he's a good public speaker and he's a good salesperson," Briscoe said. "In Louisville, he can also raise substantially more money than Beshear can."
But Abramson's more liberal stances — such as supporting gun control — aren't likely to play well in rural Kentucky, where Beshear's poll numbers are the weakest, Briscoe said. "I don't think this helps him pick up votes."
Steve Robertson, the chairman of the state Republican Party, agreed. It also was peculiar that Beshear would go against one of the state's most powerful unions, Robertson said.
"I think what he is doing is opening up the field for a potential primary challenge," Robertson said.
But Beshear said Sunday that too much emphasis has been placed on geography when candidates pick running mates.
"I'm more interested in what Jerry Abramson is going to bring to the mission after Election Day," Beshear said. "And that's the mission of making this a better place to live and improving the quality of life for our people."
Abramson's addition to the ticket also means that for the first time in years, the position of Louisville mayor is up for grabs. Abramson said Sunday that he will finish the remaining 18 months of his term, which ends in 2010.