Metro Council Primary 2008

May 13, 2008 at 8:28 pm

George Unseld
George Unseld
Old adversaries battle again in District 2

In what may be the finale of their electoral trilogy, Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin will face Yvonne “Bonnie” Woods for the third time since 2004 in the 2nd District Democratic primary.
Though the two have been cordial acquaintances for years, their political rivalry began over a funding controversy that split the Norfolk and Newburg neighborhoods.

In 2004, LEO reported that Woods was part of a task force assembled by the Kentucky Housing Corp. in 1998 to a plan a revitalization of Norfolk, a low-income neighborhood in the 2nd district. The funds never materialized, but when a community center appeared in Newburg, Woods began questioning what she called Shanklin’s favoritism and lack of attentiveness to other neighborhoods in the district.
“There are a lot of things that need to be done,” Woods said. “I’m tired of it.”

In their first race, Shanklin won in a crowded Democratic primary back in 2004. Though a lifelong Democrat, Woods decided to switch parties, register as a Republican and run against Shanklin in the general election in a heavily Democratic district. Shanklin won again, convincingly.

“At the time I switched because the GOP was doing a lot better,” Woods told LEO. “Right now the Republican Party is not doing too well.”

She admitted that running as a Republican diminished her reputation in the community, where she’s been heavily involved as a grassroots community organizer, mainly in Norfolk.

Woods re-registered as a Democrat after researching the GOP platform, which she said she could not ethically support. Though she is confident she will win this year’s primary, Woods said this is her last bid for the seat.

“I don’t actually think there’s a real big issue other than my opponent saying I haven’t done anything in the community,” Shanklin, formerly council president, said. The district does face a slumlord problem, but an ordinance addressed the issue and the courts are dragging their feet, she said.

From her sub-office in Newburg, Shanklin runs various outreach services in the community. “I just don’t give them the money and go on;. I’m here when everything’s being done,” she said, whether it’s the GED class, reupholstering courses, computer training or dancing lessons for schoolchildren.
But that oversight is the problem, according to Woods.

“The only thing she’s accomplished is what she wants to do,” Woods said.
Pulling larger issues and a reasonable debate from this tiny keyhole in the 2nd district is made more difficult by this back-and-forth debate about funding small programs.

Sadly, the chronic shortcoming of democratic government is too often the competition for public office itself. Meaning well, Shanklin and Woods are two immovable personalities vying for the same office, but who spiral into talking points on small accomplishments that eclipse lucid understanding of larger problems their interdependent neighborhoods face in the 2nd district.

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Unseld, Herndon differ on philosophies


Ken Herndon
Ken Herndon
The Democratic primary race for the 6th District Metro Council seat between councilman George Unseld and challenger Ken Herndon looks to be one of the more competitive ones this year.

Unseld has the visible attributes of an entrenched incumbent. He’s accumulated numerous endorsements, such as the Louisville Professional Firefighters, CFAIR (the Fairness Campaign’s political action committee) and the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, as well as heavy financial contributors, including Mayor Jerry Abramson’s “Friends of Jerry PAC.” Directing his reelection bid is campaign manager Denise Bentley, a veteran of Louisville politics and former member of the council who drew controversy when she publicly supported Republican Anne Northup for Congress in 2006 and later received a position under Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

“My opponent says what he will do,” Unseld said, exhibiting his trademark frankness. “Yet he hasn’t done anything but talk.”

Herndon is hardly a novice. Though a lesser-known civic servant, he’s a bumblebee of activity, affixed to Democratic politics in Louisville for years, currently as Jefferson County Judge/Executive (a title only, as the job was all but eliminated with merger). Herndon points out that Unseld co-signed his filing papers to run for that elective office. Herndon is also director of operations for the Downtown Management District.

Bob Henderson
Bob Henderson
Herndon told LEO he’s running mainly because, after moving from the Highlands to Old Louisville, he noticed a lack of leadership from City Hall. A self-described busybody and acknowledged micromanager, he began campaigning last July and says the overwhelming majority of residents tell him Unseld is an absentee representative.

“These neighborhoods have issues,” Herndon told LEO. “We need them addressed in detail on a sustained, higher energy basis.”

Unseld swatted away Herndon’s accusations of inactivity.
“Check my record,” Unseld insisted. “You’ll see the items and projects I’ve worked on, the money I’ve put forward.”

Still, Herndon’s charges, mixed with his energetic image of bouncing door-to-door across the district, increase murmurs about Unseld’s fitness — particularly his health, which has been an issue before. A review of Metro Council attendance records dating to October 2006, however, reveals Unseld’s absenteeism from meetings of the full council as an urban myth: He’s only been recorded absent from two. His health has improved, and in the past year he missed less than a handful of committee meetings, he said.

On issues affecting the district, both agree chief among them are a rash of abandoned houses in the California neighborhood, improving business areas in Old Louisville and more inclusion of South Central, which is eclipsed by Churchill Downs.

Their political philosophies contrast starkly, for instance, on the subject of redeveloping an area of Old Louisville anchored by the corner of Fourth and Oak streets. That area has deteriorated from a commercial epicenter to an eyesore.

Herndon believes Metro Council members should guide economic development, whereas Unseld thinks entrepreneurs should take the lead with government support.

“Councilman Unseld will help businesses return to the district,” Bentley told LEO, but added that in a true recession it’s harder to attract businesses. “I don’t think Ken grasps the budgetary process.”

“He’s a student of government,” said Jeff Noble, Herndon’s campaign manager, who worked as a field coordinator for U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth’s 2006 campaign. In a phone interview with LEO, Noble said his candidate’s managerial experience gives him the credentials to navigate the city’s budgetary labyrinth.
Both campaigns expect high voter turnout, particularly because the presidential primary appears vital in the Bluegrass.

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A full load in the South End

Julie Raque Adams
Julie Raque Adams
There’s one thing that unites the six candidates who want to unseat Bob Henderson as the 14th District’s Metro Council rep — dissatisfaction with Henderson’s performance.

Henderson has supported issues that bring out the emotions on Dixie Highway. He favored the smoking ban, the library tax and the dog ordinance, for example, which many residents saw as attacks on their freedoms.

Henderson’s opponents say the area doesn’t get its fair share of government funds for things like roads and sewers, and many blame their councilman. The district is heavily Democratic, but that hasn’t discouraged Republicans from signing up in a two-way primary battle. There are five in the race on the Dem side.

Henderson says 85 percent of residents own their homes, and that half of those have paid off their mortgages. So they’re fiscally conservative, which might give a tax-slashing Republican an opening.

Henderson claims his opponents have regular “Get Old Bob” meetings to which he’s not invited. He says his efforts to clean up Dixie Highway are popular with most residents, and says critics are a minority.

But he’s got enemies. One is Chris Thieneman, who passed on a run for his seat and is now a candidate for Congress. Thieneman supports two candidates in the primary — Ed Springston on the Democratic side and his business partner, Bob Heuglin, in his own party.

Heuglin is a source of controversy, in part because he’s worked for a Thieneman family company and is in the process of buying a home in the district from Thieneman.
There’s more to the soap opera.

Springston heads the anti-Jerry contingent, having run for mayor against Abramson in 2006. Springston, 44, took a buyout from Ford in 2006, and now has a part-time job at Kroger. But he spends most of his time on the race, where he claims to have plenty of financial support and says he’s spent more time than any of the other candidates canvassing neighborhoods.

But so does Mike Bowman, who’s just 25, and claims his experience working on political campaigns for U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Gov. Steve Beshear qualify him to hold elected office. Bowman is a manager for Yum! Brands and says that Valley Station is neglected by government.

John “Rick” McCoy, who, like Bowman, Henderson and Springston, believes he’s going to win the primary, shares that sentiment. A 50-year-old former electrician, McCoy hasn’t worked since 1996 due to work-related injuries. He says Henderson isn’t so bad, but recounts horror stories about the Inspections, Permits and Licenses office that he wants to change.

“I’ve never said anything bad about Bob, but I think he should have accomplished more,” he said. “I’m all for cleaning things up, but that’s all he’s concentrated on.”

Then there’s Jack D. Wood, just the kind of oddball character this race needs. If there’s an election, Wood seems to want to be in it.

Heuglin, a political newcomer, faces dairy farmer Gordon Ritchie on the Republican side. Ritchie said he hasn’t left his 600-acre farm too often in the last three decades, and is spending all of $300 on his campaign.

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Traffic is big in this East End district

In the suburban neighborhoods around Hurstbourne Parkway, no issue takes precedence over traffic. If you’ve ever tried to negotiate the stretch of Hurstbourne from Shelbyville to Taylorsville roads during rush hour, you know that traffic is what gets attention.

So it’s no surprise that four of the five candidates vying to replace Julie Raque Adams, R-18, on the Metro Council are quick to talk about implementing the Hurstbourne Transportation Study unveiled last year. It’s especially important around the Hurstbourne neighborhoods adjacent to Bullitt Farm and U of L’s Shelby campus, which are primed for more development in the next few years.

Adams, who isn’t running again, is a Republican, and many perceive the district as a stronghold for the party. But in fact registered voters are divided almost exactly in half, with 9,031 Republicans to 9,003 Democrats. It’s also weighted toward women, who outnumber men in the district by 1,500.

Republican voters have three solid primary choices. Jon Ackerson touts himself as the most experienced officeholder, having served tenures in the Kentucky Senate, House and on the Jeffersontown City Council. He claims a long list of accomplishments, including being the “political father” of Anne Northup. He says Northup got her first political job working for him and that he encouraged her to make her first run for political office. Still, he misspelled her first name in his campaign literature.

Ackerson has an interesting political family. His wife Kaye is on the J-town Council, and his son, Brent, a former law partner, is running in the 26th district as a Democrat.

Another Republican choice is long-time community activist Joyce K. Jennings. Her father, William H. King, showed her the ropes of business running the old Louisville Downs. She’s spent the last several years working in the Fletcher administration in Frankfort, but lost her state job when Steve Beshear won the governorship.

Ellen Reitmeyer, who’s 34, claims that she has the “right” kind of experience for the job because she’s been Adams’ legislative aide for five years. She’s got Adams’ endorsement, and has a firm grasp of the district’s key issues — she’s spent time working on the Hurstbourne Traffic Study and on planning and zoning proposals.

The two Democrats running offer wildly divergent agendas. Kungu Njuguna hasn’t turned 30 yet, but has built solid relationships with police and firefighters as a prosecutor in the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office. Like Barack Obama, he may have to overcome a foreign-sounding name (his Kenyan parents moved to Louisville before he was born) and his skin color in a predominantly white district.

Njuguna has solid support from city officials (his campaign manager is Rob Holtzmann, aide for Council President Jim King, D-10, and his boss Irv Maze supports him) and has been walking districts incessantly. He’s raised more than $15,000 and is focused on the right issues — public safety and traffic.

On the other hand, Njuguna’s primary opponent, Mike Perkins, led off his five-minute presentation at Owl Creek Country Club on May 6 ranting about a “silent invasion” of illegal immigrants. “All they have to do is get their girlfriend pregnant and go down to U of L and we pay for it,” Perkins said, to about 30 shocked attendees.

Later, he complained about the Metro Council’s dog ordinance, saying that anyone with a pit bull should “take it out to Bullitt County because we don’t need citizens that have those dogs here.”

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