Politics

In a party-line vote, Democratic Metro Councilman David Yates was elected Thursday to be the council president for the year.

The council voted 17-9 to elect Yates over Republican Kelly Downard. Yates was backed by the council’s Democratic Caucus just before the vote.

Yates will replace Democrat David Tandy, who has served as council president since Councilman Jim King died in office last year. Earlier this week, Tandy  announced he would not seek re-election to his District 4 seat and would forgo a bid to remain Metro Council president.

Tandy nominated Yates for the presidency during the Democratic caucus meeting.

Yates has served on the council since 2010. He is an attorney whose council district includes Pleasure Ridge Park, Waverly Hills and Valley Station.

At 35, Yates is the youngest person to serve as council president.

After making his way around council chambers to shake hands and share a hug with his colleagues — both Republicans and Democrats — Yates stepped toward the front row of the gallery to kiss to his children and thank his family.

He said there are challenges ahead for the council, ranging from tall grass to public safety.

“We’re going to have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said. “Together we’re going to accomplish a lot.”

The council Democrats appeared split late last year, which manifested in Yates’ challenge to Tandy’s council presidency. Neither Yates nor Tandy won enough votes to secure the Democratic Caucus’ support for council president during a mock vote last month.

Yates said he’ll look to unite the party and the council as a whole.

Yates said his first order of business will be to fill the various council committees, which is a primary role of the council president.

He said some of the biggest issues including the spike in violent crime in the city, deteriorating road conditions and the surge in heroin use.

Yates’ opponent, Downard, had said if he was elected he would look to address the legislative process of the council and the strategies that lead to city board appointments.

Yates said he will ensure there is diversity on boards and commissions, but it’s also imperative that the most talented people are serving.

“I want to bring in new people and get them involved in government,” he said. “New faces, new energy.”

Councilman Glen Stuckel, a Republican from District 17, said he’s sure Yates will do a good job as president, but said Downard had served the council better than any other member.

“He understands it, he understand the ins and outs of the budget,” he said.

Stuckel said would like to see more bipartisanship on the council. He added he was surprised the Democratic Caucus came together to get the vote through.

“In past times, there’s been a lot of dissension,” he said.

Councilman James Peden, a Republican from District 23, said unilateral support among the Democrats came “from some things said about Republicans in the Democratic Caucus in order to stir everybody up and unifying them by denigrating us.”

“I don’t think that’s a very good way to start to build unity,” he said.

Councilman Bill Hollander, who was elected the Democratic caucus chair Thursday evening, said the perception of a division within the party is based primarily on what happens inside the council chambers. He said outside the building, the party is united in its effort to support the middle class, and also residents seeking to join the middle class.

Hollander, who represents the Clifton and Crescent Hill area, also commended Tandy for his service in what he called the difficult task of filling the void left by King’s sudden death.

The Republican Caucus selected Councilman Kevin Kramer to serve as its chairman for the next year.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton will be the Democratic Caucus vice chair. Councilwoman Marilyn Parker will serve as vice chair for the Republican caucus.

(Photo of David Yates by J. Tyler Franklin/WFPL News)

This story has been updated.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.