Issue December 10, 2008

Friendly foes

As the city’s economic situation worsens, two key Democrats vie for Metro Council president

In less than a month, the Metro Council will select a new president, and the annual jockeying to take over the gavel has officially commenced.

Current President Jim King, D-10, has voiced interest in retaining the position, which would make him the first council member to serve consecutive terms in the leadership role. Also entering the ring is fellow Councilman David Tandy, D-4.

“I’m being encouraged to run by my colleagues from both sides of the aisle,” says King. “I’m thinking about it.”

Last year, King won the position with a robust majority vote that included three Republicans, making him the second straight Democrat to hold the seat, taking the place of Rick Blackwell, D-12.

“I’m certainly interested in serving the council and community as president,” says Tandy, whose district includes much of downtown. “These are very difficult times for our city. The challenges we face require someone who can articulate that message to the public.”

Tandy says he’s also been encouraged by colleagues from both parties to run, adding that the present economic crisis is the right moment for him to step up.

“We have a great chance as a city to respond to that challenge and we shouldn’t shy away from it,” he says. “I have never shied away.”

Not surprisingly, King also cites the budget crisis as a reason he should retain his seat, arguing continuity is key.

 “The one thing I bring to the table that’s significant is that I have a background as a chief executive officer,” King says. “It’s a CEO position, as opposed to just a legislative position.”

But not all council members agree King — CEO of King Southern Bank — has run the council like the financial guru he claims to be.

For example, Councilman James Peden, R-23, points to King’s lack of input on the controversial Center City project downtown: “[King] came to our caucus meeting and when asked, ‘Would your bank ink this deal?’ he grinned, said, ‘No comment,’ and walked away,” says Peden. “You were elected to use the skill set you had to represent the people of Louisville.”

Since city and county governments merged in 2003, the 26-member council has maintained a margin of 15 Democrats and 11 Republicans. With a healthy 16-10 majority set to take hold next year, and with two well-respected members jousting for president, it’s clear Democrats are in the driver’s seat. In years past, however, their disunity has twice allowed a Republican spoiler to nab the presidency.

King says that fractured decision-making has been resolved. As caucus chairman last year, he proposed a system that ensures whomever receives two-thirds of the Democratic caucus vote would be given the party’s official endorsement for council president.

“Councilman Tandy and I won’t end up having a floor fight,” he says. “Again, we’re good friends and I expect to remain good friends.”

On that, Tandy concurs: “We’ll continue to be friends regardless of the outcome,” adding, “rather than having an inner-party fight over the presidency, I’m hopeful we’ll have things resolved before the beginning of the new year.”

Democrats could still be deadlocked, however, by an 8-to-8 vote. Tandy says if the caucus can’t make an endorsement before the first council meeting of 2009, each member will vote on the floor.

It’s a long shot for a GOP member to win the presidency, and so far they have kept any potential candidates quiet.

“Let’s not kid ourselves — the likelihood of four Democrats voting for a Republican is slim,” says former Council President Kevin Kramer, R-11, telling LEO Weekly that at least three council Republicans have shown interest in running.

Kramer says the political environment of the council has changed since he was elected president in 2006, and that party-line decision-making has become a troubling handicap.

“It’s supposed to be a different kind of leadership than the mayor’s office across the street,” he says. “On the legislative side, what we need is good discussion.”

If anything boosts Tandy’s chances, it’s the trend of the council picking a different member to run annually.

“There’s still a sense that the same person should not serve consecutively,” Kramer says. “That’s been a consistent theme in the council since its inception.”