An e-mail to friends from Wasilla becomes Internet hit

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 8, 2008 

Anne Kilkenny is a political activist from Wasilla, Alaska, September 4, 2008. (Rich Mauer/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)

RICH MAUER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS / MCT

WASILLA, Alaska — At 3 a.m. 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 Wasilla 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 Palin supporters.

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

"Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a first-name basis," her 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% of the residents of the city."

Kilkenny, a registered Democrat, sent the note the day after Republican presidential candidate John McCain picked Palin to be his running. She said she sent it to 30 relatives and friends outside Alaska to answer the 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, it's 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 first-hand 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 long-time Wasilla resident and from attending almost every council meeting the first year Palin was mayor.

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, hard working 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, who 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 long-time registered Democrat. 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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