The Louisville Metro Council has started it special meeting to fill the 6th District seat that was left vacant by the sudden death of George Unseld. The council will have 11 different applicants to choose from when they vote June 30. The replacement must be approved by a majority of the council.
The applicants will be interviewed in the following order:
- Neeka L. Parks Thompson
- Carol Clark
- Ken Herndon
- Cassia Herron
- John P. Albers
- Phillip T. Baker
- Keith B. Hunter
- Deonte Jamar Hollowell
- Rachel M. Hurst
- Bobbie D. Powell
- Kevin L. Dunlap
Only 21 council members were able to make today’s special meeting. Usually after passing a city budget, as the council did last week, ctiy lawmakers take their vacations. That fact has made it difficult to schedule the appointment process in such a short period of time.
The council members missing are Jim King, D-10, Kevin Kramer, R-11, Jon Ackerson, R-18, and James Peden, R-23. The candidates are given 2-minute opening statement before council members begin their questioning. After that they will receive a 1-minute closing statement.
The first applicant up is Neeka L. Parks Thompson, an attorney who formerly worked as deputy director in the state’s Personnel Cabinet. She says three most pressing issues in the district are education, youth services and public safety.
“I have a strong desire to ensure this is a possibility city for all citizens,” says Parks-Thompson.
Next up is Carol Clark, a California neighborhood resident and owner of California Cutz Barbershop, who is a former Louisville police officer.
The question from council members will likely be repetitive given the number of applicants, for instance, Councilwoman Judy Green, D-1, is concerned about youth programs and organizations in the district. Other city lawmakers, such as Councilwoman Vickey Aubrey Welch, D-13, wants to know if applicants are active in neighborhood block watches while Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, wants to know what the candidates believe is their best quality.
Interestingly, Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, is asking the applicants questions even though he told LEO Weekly last week that he’s supporting former council candidate Ken Herndon to fill the seat.
For many residents in the 6th District, there is a worry and anxiousness to hear from Unseld’s would-be successors, especially if they’ll continue his funding and advocacy.
“If you’re appointed to the seat, would you move forward with Councilman Unseld’s initiatives?” asks Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3,
“Whatever he set out to do, I would take it further and would not divert any other way,” says Clark.
Next up is Herndon.
In Jerry’s kids a few weeks ago, we wrote about Herndon, who is considered the front-runner by many and currently works as the director of operations at the Louisville Downtown Management District:
Political chatter suggests the favorite to take Unseld’s seat is former Metro Council candidate Ken Herndon, who narrowly lost his 2008 Democratic primary bid against Unseld by 112 votes. Many believe Unseld’s narrow victory was due in large part to a nasty homophobic mailer delivered to voters just days before the election.
The glossy, double-sided flier featured a doctored photo of Herndon — who is gay — transposed atop the body of a man embracing two other men kissing at a gay-pride parade. In addition to relaying several homophobic slurs, the attack piece stated: “(Herndon) wants us to elect him because he designed new garbage cans?! I guess when you live a life of trash, you become pretty familiar with garbage cans.”
Herndon believes the flier — which Unseld adamantly denied any connection to — cost him the race. Many residents and a handful of whispering council members are rumored to concur.
Just this week, the Fairness Campaign’s Political Action Committee endorsed Herndon.
Despite the open-ended questioning by council members, it’ll be hard to council members to pick an applicant besides Herndon, and not just because he ran against Unseld in 2008.
Last week, he received the endorsement from the Fairness Campaign’s political action committee. The former council candidate has also reignited his campaign in many ways. He started a Facebook page encouraging supporters to lobby council members, pick up yard signs at his house and sign a petition of support.
Councilwoman Madonna Flood, D-24, made a good point, however, after Herndon said he would quit his job if appointed. The selection made by the council tomorrow is only to finish out the rest of the year. The major parties will then pick candidates to run in November, but it’s speculated that the Democratic Party won’t trump the council’s choice.
“I didn’t become interested in this position 12 days ago,” says Herndon. “…I know those people, those places and those issues. And I’m eager to join you.”
Next up is Cassia Herron, a former organizer with the Community Farm Alliance and former economic development officer in Metro government. Herron says she speaks for a growing number young entrepreneurs seeking to serve.
“The bridges project is paramount and the council’s leadership on that is important and it’s something I would want to weigh in on,” says Herron. “I’m very supportive of department audits so the council can see what can be done legislatively to increase efficiency and get rid of the red tape.”
Since John P. Albers is missing in action, up next is Phillip T. Baker, a 25-year-old insurance representative and a former public-relations person for an Arena Football League team. Given that Baker is the youngest applicant, which he pointed out to the council in a joke, Councilwoman Green’s question about assisting youth is particularly important to him.
“I plan on giving the youth an effective voice. I would assist them by being a role model. I’d show them we can be interested in more than crime, but in local politics,” he says.
Answering Councilman David Tandy, D-4, who asked about important issues in the district, Baker said it’s public safety and listed a number of incidents around his home in the area.
“People just want to feel safe,” he says.
During the Q&A, Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, asked Baker what he meant by saying the district was diverse with “moral values,” along with age and race.
“What I stated about moral values, I’m raised by a Baptist minister and we’re brought up to serve…no matter what are differences are we’re are about bring up the community and giving back.”
Up next is Kevin Dunlap, a consultant and former senior director with the Louisville Urban League.
Dunlap says foremost joblessness is on his mind. He worked with the civil rights group on housing development issues and bringing in funds to help residents find affordable living space.
Speaking before the council now is Bobbie Powell, who is a special-education assistant with the Jefferson County Board of Education and a long-time union representative. Interesting historic note, Powell, who is an avid golfer, ran against Unseld for the Louisville Board of Alderman back in 1999. After winning that race, Unseld would go on to be one of the original co-sponsors of the historic Fairness Campaign.
When asked about the pressing issues in the district Powell says it is vacant properties, and she demonstrates a deep knowledge of federal civil rights laws that she would leverage to get debilitated housing improved. Powell is unapologetic that she believes the seat should be retained by an African-American.
Rachel Hurst is a political consultant who has worked on a number of political campaigns that worked on lobbying the council concerning public housing, civil rights, food security and education. Currently, she works at Catholic Charities of Louisville, and admits she’d have to scaled back at work to commit to serving on the council.
“I haven’t had time to reach out to youth groups in the past week and a half,” she says.
Despite an impressive set of resumes amongst most of the candidates, the dividing line appears to be that some seeking to replace Unseld are actively working neighborhood groups in the district and lobbying council members while others have simply applied for the seat like any other job.
Next up is Deonte Hollowell, a professor at the University of Louisville and an instructor at Spalding University and Jefferson Community and Technical College. The U of L graduate says his experience in working with diversity groups give him a unique perspective on how to work with a district that is so different.
“The three most pressing issues are safety, education and poverty/jobs,” he says.
When asked why he’s seeking office, Hollowell said his cousin, who is a councilman back in Hopkinsville, Ky. inspired him to throw his name in the hat.
The next applicant taking questions from the council is civil rights attorney Keith B. Hunter, whose name has been shopped around to replace Unseld since last year, when rumors were spreading that he was considering retirement. Hunter is an assistant Jefferson County attorney.
minds.In 2006, he represented two African-American men in a lawsuit against a pair of Fourth Street Live businesses for alleged racial discrimination. That could help Hunter among civil rights leaders, who have stated publicly and petitioned the council that an African-American should retain the 6th District seat to maintain minority representation.
And though it hasn’t come up during the special meeting specifically, racial diversity on the council is an issue in the community.
In a letter delivered to council members just before the interviews, Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham insisted that the council maintain the same racial balance it has had since the first Metro Council election in 2002, six black members.
While most of the applicants are African-American, the applicant who narrowly lost to Unseld two years ago is Ken Herndon, who is white and favored by the Fairness Campaign.
Yet, the NAACP says now is not the time to reduce black representation, as just released U.S. Census figures show that Louisville’s black population is growing.
“African Americans were 20.36% of the county population,” explained Cunningham, “So therefore, I don’t think that there is a legitimate substantial reason to make the change.”
Cunningham says it was an inherent promise of Louisville and Jefferson County merger that at least six of the 26 Metro Council seats would be filled by African Americans.
“There was never a promise of anything,” countered Metro Council Member Kelly Downard (R-16), “How can you promise someone who’s going to be elected? That would mean you would only allow someone who is an African American to run.”
Hunter points out that Central Park, Park Hill housing projects, neighborhood business and Oak Street corridor needs a lot of work. The civil rights attorney provided pictures of specific places in the district he’s concerned about.
“I don’t know how many of you have been to Park Hill, but we need to do something,” he says.
That concludes the interviews, the council will reconvene to vote on a replacement tomorrow evening at 5 p.m.