When Louisville Metro Councilman George Unseld died in June, a special election was ordered to elect someone to fill the remaining two years of his term.
Four candidates are actively campaigning for the seat, and they all face a tough fight for what may be the busiest job on the Metro Council.
The first sign that the 6th District seat be would hotly contested came in June, when the Metro Council took several contentious hours to appoint independent Deonte Hollowell to serve until the special election. Hollowell, like Unseld, is African-American. At that meeting, NAACP President Raoul Cunningham and others implored the council to preserve its racial makeup.
“It was very important to us, because, if you’ll recall, the proponents of merger assured the African-American community there would be six districts of the 26,” he says.
While Cunningham did not want the council to change its racial balance, he says voters could do just that. After all, the person they elect will represent one of the most racially and economically diverse districts in the city.
“You have diversity in neighborhoods there, going through probably one of the high-end districts in Old Louisville to California to Park Hill,” says Cunningham.
There are four candidates vying to represent that collection of neighborhoods. The first to declare his candidacy was Unseld’s council-appointed successor Deonte Hollowell. Because he’s an independent, Holowell will face two major party candidates.
The Democratic Party has nominated another African-American, former Fraternal Order of Police president David James. Advertising professional Candace Jaworksi is the Republican nominee. But Democrat Ken Herndon is running a write-in campaign. He narrowly lost to Unseld in the 2008 primary, which was marred by an anti-gay flier that took aim at Herndon, who’s openly gay. Herndon also narrowly lost the council’s appointment and was overlooked for his party’s nomination weeks later.
Herdon’s yard signs are already lining streets in Old Louisville. That’s where I met real estate agent Deborah Stewart.
“George lived down here,” says Stewart. “He lived right over on Park Avenue, just across from the tennis courts.”
As we sit in St. James Court, Stewart outlines the issues that resonate most with her and her neighbors. She says preservation, cracking down on absentee landlords and bringing in the right businesses are all key. And the next councilmember will need to be ready to listen to those concerns from Old Louisville residents.
“They don’t want someone who is passive. They want someone who they can call and say, ‘This is going on in my neck of the woods, it concerns me, what can you do about it?'” says Stewart. “They want their concerns addressed.”
Stuart says she thinks the race will come down to Hollowell and Herndon. Hollowell has a brief voting record to run on, but he doesn’t have a major party machine behind him. Neither does Herndon, who has won endorsements from four council members, but must remind voters to write his name onto the ballot.
Haven Harrington writes a blog about the Russell neighborhood, part of which is in the district. Harrington lives north of the district himself, but has been involved in local politics. He says Democratic nominee David James shouldn’t be underestimated, given the high number of registered Democrats in the district, and James’s law enforcement experience.
Harrington agrees with Deborah Stewart’s comments that the new council member will have unique issues to address. But the issues in the western half of the district are different than those in Old Louisville.
“How are you going to address predatory lending and these other factors that tend to affect poorer neighborhoods versus your wealthy neighborhoods,” says Harrington.
Harrington says solutions to the issues are nuanced, and the diversity will have to be addressed through footwork. That means listening to the outspoken residents and neighborhood groups, and reaching out to everyone else.
“More work. [Laughs]. It’s just going to be more work,” says Harrington. “They’re going to have to have several different meetings.”