The already divided Democratic majority in the Louisville Metro Council is investigating whether to kick a member out of the caucus, but the councilwoman leading the push won’t say who the member is.
Caucus Chairwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, alleged Thursday that a staffer working for one of the Democrats has been working on an election to defeat a sitting member.
In the 2014 cycle, five incumbent Democrats are facing opponents in either a primary or general election.
“Working to defeat one of our caucus Democrats is not professional, and it’s against our rules,” Welch said at this week’s caucus meeting, according to LEO Weekly‘s Joe Sonka.
Welch declined WFPL’s request for further comment and she would not identify the council member or legislative aide in question. But Democratic caucus staff are currently conducting an internal investigation to potentially confront the unknown member and their staffer.
Councilman David James, D-6, who was defeated by Welch for the caucus chair position last month, says it is his understanding Welch’s allegations are being directed at his office.
“If the council member isn’t aware of it, I don’t believe they should be removed. And I think Councilwoman Welch should at least tell the person that she’s talking about privately who she is talking about,” he says. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it and understand exactly what she’s talking about.”
Welch’s accusation caught several Democratic lawmakers by surprise as the 17-member caucus seeks to mend wounds over the controversial vote in Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin’s removal trial.
Last year, James voted with a slim minority to keep Shanklin on the council while Welch was one of the members who filed a petition seeking Shankin’s ousters from office over ethics violations.
James says the accusations are specifically about his legislative aide, Wanda Mitchell-Smith, who worked as a political action representative for AFSCME Council 62 in Kentucky for over a decade. She has also worked on federal and state elections, including President Obama’s re-election campaign in Ohio.
According to caucus rules, however, legislative assistants are not forbidden to work on elections of any kind.
The rules do prohibit the Democratic caucus director and spokesperson from working on behalf of any political opponent of a sitting member. In that instance, either would be subject to termination.
But Mitchell-Smith told WFPL even if the caucus rules applied to her position she isn’t working on any council race this year.
“I’ve been asked by many council members to help them with contacting labor unions, and I’ve asked for clearance about what I can and cannot do. But I’m not working on any race or on any payroll other than Councilman James,” she says.
“It is very unfair for me especially because this is about my integrity and maybe that’s a word they’re not familiar with.”
Democratic caucus rules allow for the suspension or expulsion of member if they are working “to defeat an incumbent member in a primary or general election.” If a city lawmaker is removed by a two-thirds vote he or she would be unable to utilize the caucus staff and would be barred from voting on or participating in certain activities.
One City Hall source described it as being put on a “political desert island.”
Some council Democrats suggested overhauling the caucus rules to include legislative assistants, however, others bristled at Welch’s vague accusation in such a public forum.
“I don’t appreciate the accusations at me or my boss, and he hasn’t warranted any of that,” says Mitchell-Smith.