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Published: Sunday, 4/3/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

NEW SOUTH WALES

Whitehouse native loses top position in Australian state

Groundbreaking premier ousted as party fails to maintain majority

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Kristina Keneally, the former Kristina Kerscher, was known as a scrappy sports competitor while a student at Notre Dame Academy. Kristina Keneally, the former Kristina Kerscher, was known as a scrappy sports competitor while a student at Notre Dame Academy.
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John and Cathy Kerscher, parents of Kristina Keneally, still reside in Whitehouse. Mr. Kerscher spent much of last month in Australia with his daughter’s family. John and Cathy Kerscher, parents of Kristina Keneally, still reside in Whitehouse. Mr. Kerscher spent much of last month in Australia with his daughter’s family.
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The March 10, 2011, edition of the Daily Telegraph features a cover story on Kristina Keneally. The Sydney-based newspaper sent a reporter and photographer to Whitehouse to complete the article. The March 10, 2011, edition of the Daily Telegraph features a cover story on Kristina Keneally. The Sydney-based newspaper sent a reporter and photographer to Whitehouse to complete the article.
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The political odyssey Down Under of former Toledo-area resident Kristina Keneally has taken another dramatic turn — this time into the loss column.

The former Kristina Kerscher, 42, has had to relinquish her job as premier of Australia's New South Wales, where she governed for two years.

Mrs. Keneally, who grew up in Whitehouse and graduated from Notre Dame Academy, easily won election in her own parliamentary district March 26. But when her party, Labor, lost its majority in the New South Wales Parliament, it also lost the power to name the premier.

Mrs. Keneally's successor, Barry O'Farrell of the Liberal-National coalition, was quickly elected and installed in her place last Monday.

"She's disappointed. Going into it she knew she was going to have a long row to hoe," said her father, John Kerscher, 67.

"She was hoping she could change some people's minds, but that didn't happen," said Mr. Kerscher, who spent the last month of the campaign with his daughter and her family, returning last week.

"She has gotten all kinds of compliments, even from the other party, about how she campaigned. She was up at 5 in the morning and was going until 10 o'clock a lot of days. She's a tough campaigner, a tireless campaigner," he said.

Mrs. Keneally did not respond to The Blade's request for comment.

New South Wales is the largest of Australia's six states with about 7 million residents. Its capital and largest city is Sydney. Mrs. Keneally became the state's first woman premier in December, 2009.

At Notre Dame Academy, she was known as a scrappy competitor in basketball and soccer. She graduated in 1987.

After high school, Mrs. Keneally received a degree in political science from the University of Dayton. While there, she was president and a founder of the National Association of Students at Catholic Colleges and Universities and participated in a ­program that allowed her to shadow then-Lt. Gov. Paul Leonard, who was in the Dick Celeste administration.

She continued at Dayton to get a master's degree in theology, a field of study that led her to Poland in 1991, where she met her husband, Ben Keneally. Mrs. Keneally was there helping to represent the United States during the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, and he was Australia's representative.

The two married at St. Joseph's Church in Maumee in 1996 and have two sons, Daniel, 12, and Brendan, 10. Mr. Keneally is director of marketing for a company that makes battery-changing stations for electric cars.

Mr. Keneally and his family were already prominent in Labor Party politics — the equivalent of the Democratic Party in the United States — when Mrs. Keneally was first elected to the New South Wales parliament in 2003.

Her rise to premier came with some controversy. Headlines in Australian newspapers declared a split in the Labor Party that ultimately chose her over the former premier. When she was sworn in in 2009, she said it was time to "to heal the party."

But after 16 years in power and a series of embarrassing scandals — none involving Mrs. Keneally — the Labor Party was destined for a fall. The party lost 32 of the 50 seats it formerly held in the 93-seat lower house of parliament.

"This is an expected but nonetheless historical and catastrophic defeat for the Labor Party in New South Wales," Labor lawmaker Chris Bowen of Sydney said on the Australian Meet The Press news program. "We have seen four years of melodrama, of scandals, of changing premiers."

John Farrell, a member of the Liberal Party from New South Wales who contacted The Blade about Mrs. Keneally, said she wasn't just a casualty of Labor's loss — she helped make it happen.

"Kristina Keneally must accept responsibility for this loss as in the last days of her government she sold off the electricity power stations owned by the government. She then closed down parliament early to avoid having to explain to an inquiry why the power stations were sold off to Chinese companies. This will see power prices surge for NSW residents," Mr. Farrell said.

Mr. Kerscher said the power companies were sold to private concerns because the government couldn't afford to pay for the upgrading that they needed.

During her term, the Telegraph newspaper sent a reporter and photographer to Whitehouse and then published a story, complete with a picture of a laughing Mrs. Keneally in a party dress and the headline, "The Real Kristina — How a feisty American teen became NWS's most powerful woman."

Mr. Kerscher, who is retired as manager of product development from Johns Mansville, said he made the 27-hour trip to Australia a month ago to help care for his grandsons. His wife and Kristina's mother, Catherine Kerscher, stayed home because she teaches at a local parochial school. Mrs. Kerscher is a native of Australia who came to the United States with her mother at the age of 2.

Mrs. Kerscher said their daughter still keeps in touch with friends from high school and college, and they keep friends and her former teachers in their parish, St. Joseph's of Maumee, apprised of her political career in Australia.

Contract Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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