Democrats vying for the Louisville Metro Council District 9 seat are disappointed Mayor Greg Fischer is endorsing one of their rivals in their primary election.
As WFPL’s Jacob Ryan reported, the mayor announced Saturday he is backing attorney Bill Hollander in a crowded field of 13 candidates.
The endorsement arguably makes Hollander the favorite to succeed retiring Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh this spring. But opponents argue Fischer’s decision could meet resistance among voters who view it as the administration meddling in the early stages of a race.
This is the first time Fischer has endorsed a primary candidate since being elected.
Hollander’s campaign touts its relationship with Fischer as an asset, saying the district needs a representative who will have a good working relationship with the mayor.
For his part, the mayor has said Hollander would be a “great partner” to continue the city—and arguably his agenda’s—momentum.
“Bill and I have worked together for several years and we have common goals for our city—a city where government and business continue to work together to create jobs and make Louisville more compassionate,” Fischer said in a statement.
The other candidates in the race say it was no secret who the mayor supported, but such a public endorsement by a leading Democratic official in a primary race is regarded by many to be “inappropriate.”
“Bill has said to folks that he’s running in part because ‘the mayor needs help’ which I think is interesting because I’m not running to represent the administration in Metro Council. I’m running to represent the 9th District,” says candidate Mike Brooks, a business manager at StageOne Family Theatre.
“It does raise some strong questions about the relationship between Bill and the mayor. I believe that even in a strong mayor system we should have a more co-equal government to ensure we have adequate accountability. Now I’m not running against this administration or for it, but I think it’s a key role of Metro Council to hold them accountable even when we agree.”
Hollander donated the $1,000 maximum amount allowed under state law to Fischer’s campaign in the primacy and general election. He also gave a $500 contribution towards the mayor’s inaugural events, according to campaign finance records.
The mayor is doing more than just throwing his name behind Hollander’s bid. Fischer’s re-election campaign manager told WFPL the mayor is also hosting a fundraiser for Hollander sometime next month.
Candidate J.P. Davis is a fundraiser at the University of Louisville. He says the mayor should have remained neutral given how others vying for the District 9 seat also supported Fischer four years ago.
“An endorsement from a leading Democratic this soon is surprising when really it should be about a thorough discussion of the issues and not this early in the game,” he says. “Bill Hollander really hasn’t even had a chance to earn that kind of endorsement.”
“I think it’s a good old boy’s network and a clear example of cronyism to be frank. And it’s quite honestly a fueling factor for why I’m running. I’m extremely disappointed, especially when Tina is staying out of it and a lot of other people are.”
Ward-Pugh told WFPL in December she had met with several possible candidates, but would not be endorsing in the primary. Many who entered the race were hoping other party officials would follow her lead.
Not at all of the candidates are upset about the mayor’s decision, however.
“A mayor or a guy down the street can endorse whoever they want,” says former Jefferson County School board member Steve Imhoff, adding Fischer has cleaned up Metro Government. “The mayor mentioned to me that he was endorsing Bill Hollander because Bill had helped him four years ago. Mayors and governors usually wait until the primary is over, but I told him it’s no hard feelings and to do what he wants.”
Other candidates don’t believe this will matter to District 9 voters or change the dynamics of the race.
In fact, many are hoping to use the endorsement as a way to distinguish their candidacies as the grassroots alternative.
Those rivals argue Hollander, who is a former managing partner at the law firm Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, is an example of the city’s political elite handpicking a council member.
“Well all know Bill Hollander is an educated attorney and a one-percenter, per se. That’s not the normal in this district,” says candidate Mollie Younger Noe, a small business owner in the district. “Fischer is not a voter in our district, so he doesn’t even have a say in our race. There are plenty of other qualified candidates, including myself, who are in a foot race for this seat.”
District 9 includes the Clifton Heights, Crescent Hill and St. Matthews neighborhoods.
UPDATE 7:20 p.m.:
Hollander campaign spokesman Andy Reynolds says they are holding a fundraiser on March 6, but no such event with the mayor has been confirmed.
“Any discussions about a fundraiser that Greg would host haven’t been mentioned to us at this point,” he says.
“There has also been no discussion of PAC or volunteer support, although we expect that there will be a significant (coincidental) crossover in the latter due to Bill’s work as a volunteer for Greg in 2010.”