Issue November 11, 2009

Jerry’s kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

It’s been a rough couple of months for mayoral candidate and Metro Councilman Jim King, D-10. A number of high-profile controversies seem to have knocked the guy off his stride.

The trouble began in September, when the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance ruled King and his daughter, Jefferson County District Judge Katie King, were both guilty of unknowingly violating state election law. The councilman gave his daughter more than $145,000 during her campaign last fall, an amount that far exceeds the $1,000 limit. The attorney general named a special prosecutor to investigate the matter, which still is pending.

The next month, it was revealed that Councilman King sent a mass e-mail to local lawyers asking those who have had “a good experience” on cases handled by his daughter to grade her performance on the Louisville Bar Association’s current judicial evaluation. Although not against the law, the request raised ethical red flags among legal observers.

And most recently, there’s been a very public fight regarding nasty court records stemming from King’s divorce in the 1980s. The Courier-Journal uncovered and published some of the ugly details from the divorce, including allegations of physical abuse by King, prompting the councilman and his ex-wife to ask a judge to seal the records, which proved unsuccessful.

Despite the recent dustups, however, King campaign officials believe they still have plenty of momentum going into next year’s race.

King’s fundraising receipts totaled $209,675 in the third quarter, more than any other candidate. In addition to having deep pockets, King touts a bold legislative record on labor standards and transparency.

Though it has gotten little public attention, the open-books ordinance, which King co-sponsored with Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, recently passed committee. The ordinance is an attempt to make any use of city funds subject to open records law. The city bill is another response to the Abramson administration’s relationship with The Cordish Cos., the developer of Fourth Street Live, which received a sweetheart loan of $950,000 in tax dollars to refurbish a downtown nightclub without having to disclose details of the expenditures.

Unfortunately for King, the ordinance has been buried beneath an avalanche of stories fueled in large part by what some characterize as King’s reckless bravado. For instance, it was revealed in a number of stories reported in LEO Weekly that in May 2008, King — then council president — repeatedly tried to push Metro Council candidate Ken Herndon out of the primary race by any means necessary.

In an interview with LEO in September, King said he believed the mayoral campaign would remain positive and issues oriented. At this point, it appears that could become increasingly difficult.

According to sources in competing mayoral campaigns, polling suggests that while King’s name recognition remains strong, his negatives are skyrocketing.

Not surprisingly, there’s a growing belief within the King campaign that their candidate is being unfairly picked on in the media.

“There have been four or five stories on his divorce 30 years ago,” says Michael Tierney, a campaign spokesman, adding that the negative coverage is coming from one place: The Courier-Journal. “I understand it’s their prerogative if they feel it’s newsworthy, but if you read the reader responses, I think people are starting to wonder, ‘What have they got against this guy?’”

They’re hoping voters will ignore the “sensational stories,” but it appears King also knows he will have to play a part in making the bad press go away, backing away from unnecessary public fights.

In an Oct. 31 letter to the C-J, King indicated he would abandon his fight to seal his divorce files from the media. King’s ex-wife, however, is appealing a judge’s recent ruling to unseal the files.

The question for voters when the primary rolls around in May will be whether they will reward a man with a record of results, but one who is increasingly known for bullying behind the scenes.

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With the filing deadline for the mayor’s race approaching, a few more candidates are expected to enter. One late-filing candidate is likely to be bicycle advocate Jackie Green, who plans to run as an independent. Co-owner of Bike Couriers Bike Shop, Green says transportation will be a focus of his candidacy because it stands at the forefront of Louisville’s future.

“Transportation is more automotive infrastructure than ever, so yes, that’s a step backwards,” Green says. “We need a great public transit system. We have a decent one at rush hour right now. Outside of rush hour, it is a very poor system, and that is a must for our city to be great.”

Green says independent candidates will bring alternative ideas that mainstream candidates ignore. He’s hopeful that the media will give him and fellow independent mayoral candidate Nimbus Couzin, owner of the Highlands coffee shop Ray’s Monkey House, an equal platform during the campaign.

•••

For most of the past year, council Democrats have been divided about their caucus director, Kenya McGruder, who was on the brink of being fired this summer.

In July, a five-member personnel panel decided to suspend McGruder for a full week, setting a number of goals for her to meet. Since then, the relationship between McGruder and council members seeking her ouster has been icy at best.

After much debate and maneuvering by council members seeking her removal, the Democratic caucus voted last week to dismiss her at the end of the year; she will be fired effective Dec. 31.

McGruder declined to comment for this story.

Council Democrats have a history of butting heads over their partisan staff. Since Metro government was formed in 2003, Democrats have had three different caucus directors, while Republicans have kept the same since merger.

There’s been a longstanding disagreement about how the diverse 16-member caucus is being run, and much of the blame has been attributed to McGruder, who has been in her position since late 2005.

This latest upheaval has been brewing for a while, with detractors saying she has neglected her duties. But McGruder’s supporters contend that Democratic council members did not do a good job coordinating with her.

The Democrats often make comments to the media and draft ordinances without keeping their communications or caucus directors informed. Unlike their GOP colleagues, who often coordinate positions, legislation and press interviews with their caucus director, Democrats primarily work through their legislative aides. It’s being spun as the price of a consistent majority, but the consequence is that the Democrats’ caucus staff is often left in the dark with no sense of direction or leadership.

“Ms. McGruder didn’t necessarily have 16 different bosses. She had requests from 16 different people to do work,” says Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, chairman of the caucus.

Democrats will soon launch a search to find a replacement, but at this point Johnson says it’s unclear what the parameters will be.