A strange subplot emerges in the race for council president — and other ephemera for the New Year
Let this much be clear: This is, has been and always will be a column for geeks. City government geeks. We who revel in deep knowledge of backyard issues while remaining perpetually frustrated by our own lack of influence — and because most people care more about the fate of Derrick Caracter (bless your tolerance, Pitino!) than whether government will jam a lunatic concrete monster into our riverfront or sell half of downtown to one company.
Invariably, some will never find local issues interesting, entertaining or otherwise worth spending the kind of time they might with features like “Yada Yada Yada” or “All I’m Saying Is,” both staples of another weekly in Louisville, both just a little deeper than the kiddie pool.
But hey, at the core, aren’t we all just almost-pleasant people trying to pad the 401(k)? I am, and I’ve made a crucial mistake in that quest working for a broke-ass alt-weekly like this one.
Maybe I should run for Metro Council. Despite being heckled by rabid heads like me, those folks seem to have a pretty good gig. Certainly is for Jim King, D-10. If you’re playing the odds, he’ll be elected council president on Monday. And that matters to your backyard, whether you admit or ignore it.
Despite a few follies, like scaring up the clichés when a center for troubled youth bought some property near his modest Newburg Road empire (full disclosure: for much of my youth I was King’s neighbor) and getting busted attending a recent Mitch McConnell fundraiser, for which he quickly atoned, King is a good prospect. He says he wants to lead amiably, and that he’ll bring no legislative agenda.
As a member, he’s graced us with a few progressive ideas. Banning plastic bags, which has morphed into a plan to recycle plastic bags — and thus become a little less San Francisco — would advance Louisville’s supposed “green” agenda rapidly. King has supported banning smoking in public buildings, and as Democratic caucus chair the last two years, he’s tried to play a leadership role within the party, something that current president Rick Blackwell has done quietly. Very quietly.
That’s been a problem for some, according to a source in the council. Blackwell isn’t the Great Communicator, as many learned last summer, when he sprung a plan to drop caucus staff (part of an initiative to save money and diminish partisanship, he said) without first notifying the caucus staffs. Or a couple months ago, when he initialized an ad hoc committee to study the 8664 proposal, holding a press conference without offering a conciliatory heads-up to Mayor Abramson or David Tandy, D-4, in whose district sits the riverfront stretch where 8664 would leave the most significant mark.
Not that he has to do any of this, but if the Dems want a machine — and to fend off consistently solid challenges to the presidency from the minority party — they should at least sync up on the major initiatives. Then again, that’s the partisanship some say they’d like to avoid.
This time last year we learned of the farm system by which the Democrats would assert their majority and groom party leaders: Blackwell was elected president, King caucus chair and Tandy vice caucus chair. The next year, the arrangement went, Blackwell would return to being a regular member, while King would become president, Tandy caucus chair and so forth.
As of last week, that system appeared broken, with at least three members — Tandy, Blackwell and Dan Johnson, D-21 — interested in the chairmanship.
Here’s where it could get weird: The Dems had a nasty split this fall over Blackwell’s caucus staff measure, which King voted against. Now, members who supported Blackwell’s initiative may have his back for the chairmanship, according to one council source, who said those loyal to King may take up the other side, making for an awfully unpleasant negotiation for the 15-member majority. In an interview Thursday, King said he supports any member who seeks a leadership role, and that as president, he’d try to bring that stance to the full council. He added that the “farm team” concept is inaccurate, as chairmanships require elections, and because, you know, not every Triple-A ballplayer makes the majors.
That’s different than what Dems were saying last year, and what one told me last week.
Meanwhile, former council president Kevin Kramer, R-11, is the likely Republican nominee for president. Of the five council presidents, Kramer came closest to overcoming partisan divisions — on the eve of his 2006 presidency, he’d told me that would be his top goal. He reiterated that last week.
Kramer won election in 2006 when a few Democrats broke from the party after a bout of infighting. Sound familiar, geeks?
In case you’ve been high the past week and missed it, a judge threw out the citywide smoking ban, saying the council passed it with the intent to grant an unconstitutional exemption for Churchill Downs and, therefore, screwed things up fairly royally. If you went to the bar last weekend, you probably already knew that.
Mayor Abramson asked the council to redraft the ordinance without the exemption, and the new bill got its first reading at a special meeting Thursday. It moved to the health and human services committee, which will likely pass it Jan. 7, so that the full council can pass it Jan. 10. Abramson will sign it right away.
Also on Thursday, the Jefferson County Attorney’s office — which provides the council legal advice and assured members that a ban with a Churchill exemption would pass constitutional muster — asked Judge Stephen Ryan to reconsider his decision. As of Friday, when LEO went to press because of early holiday deadlines, the city had not appealed Ryan’s decision.
John Dant, owner of the Back Door Lounge and president of the Metro Louisville Hospitality Coalition, the group of bar and restaurant owners that brought the original lawsuit against the city, said Thursday that he wasn’t sure whether the group would bring a legal challenge to the new ordinance.
Several council members, specifically Republicans Kramer (11), Hal Heiner (19) and Doug Hawkins (25), argued that the Churchill exemption was unconstitutional during the debate last year. In a recent phone interview, Kramer said this is the second time the council has passed what amounted to a bunk smoking ban, and it’s unfair to have put business owners through all this again — many added things like outdoor smoking patios, which ain’t cheap.
Some things to watch in the New Year regarding the smoking ban:
1) What happens to those who were penalized under an unconstitutional law?
2) How much did Metro spend defending that law?
3) Who is accountable for the money spent?
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