Politics
2:50 pm
Thu October 10, 2013

Addressing Claims of Racial Bias in Shanklin Verdict, Councilwoman Mary Woolridge Says 'Get Over It'

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, is refusing to confirm or deny claims that she voted to retain fellow member Barbara Shanklin solely because she is an African-American woman.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3,
Credit Louisville Metro Council

But she says those who disagree with the outcome need to "get over it."

Speaking at the Louisville Forum this week, Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, blew the whistle on the nearly three and a half hour deliberations.

Downard said Woolridge told lawmakers she would not vote again to remove a black female from office.   

"If I turned to you and I say ‘I will never vote to expel a white man from the Metro Council’ what thoughts did you just have? Anger? Revulsion? That happened in the deliberation room," Downard said. "One of the members of my Metro Council said I will never vote to remove an African-American woman from this council."

Downard later confirmed with WFPL that council member was Woolridge.

Some have pointed to a racial divide regarding the case both in in the community and on the council since the verdict.

It has been noted that all of the black council members voted to keep Shanklin in office despite some lawmakers such as Democrat David James denying race had anything to do with the decision.

Woolridge sidestepped questions about whether her vote was based on race and she refused to address the matter further.

"Dr. Shanklin was exonerated and the council needs to move ahead. Everybody ought to get over it including Kelly Downard and anybody else that has a problem with it," she says. "She got the amount of votes that she needed to remain on the council."

The effort to oust Shanklin over ethics charges fell one vote short despite a majority finding the embattled lawmaker was guilty of misconduct and abusing discretionary funds.

Woolridge did vote in the unanimous decision to remove the late Judy Green from the council two years ago over allegations of violating the city's code of ethics. But it has been a point of contention for some that a second African-American woman was the subject of a ethics probe and removal trial.

Defense attorney Aubrey Williams represented Shanklin in the removal trial and at the forum he echoed the sentiment held by many of her supporters.

"The big problem here is we don't want to deal with the truth of the racial divide that permeated this case," Williams said.

WFPL reached out to other council members who voted to retain Shanklin to ask if the decision was based on race, including Democrats Attica Scott, Cheri Bryant Hamilton and David Tandy.

All declined to comment for this story or confirm Woolridge's alleged remarks, but they added through a spokesperson that the deliberations should remain private.

Civil rights leaders point out that the fact the majority of white council members voted to ouster Shanklin isn't being portrayed or questioned as a racially-motivated decision.

"When you look at the break down of the way council ended up voting you had all Republicans voting against her and you had all but two of the white Democrats voting against Councilwoman Shanklin," says Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham. "Then you had all African-American members voting for her to retain her seat. I believe that division also represents the opinion of the overall population."

Asked if Woolridge's comments are racially biased, Cunningham says there have been misstatements on both sides since the verdict and he would like to hear the councilwoman's explanation further.

Other's argue the lack of outrage towards Woolridge's comments by her colleagues is indicative of not only a racial double-standard, but the lack of transparency in the city.

"I think Kelly raises a good point. There appears to be two sets of rules here," says political activist Ed Springston, who filed one of the ethics charges against Green in 2011. "At the end of the day Mary is a politician who faced a backlash when Judy Green was impeached. Can you imagine the heat she took? I don't look at it as black versus white as much as a politician trying to cover her butt."

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