Metro Council added two new members this month, but the number of fresh voices on the legislative body will eventually be three.
Democrats Jecorey Arthur and Cassie Chambers Armstrong represent District 4 and 8, respectively. By the end of this month, they and their fellow council members will choose someone to represent District 25, whose seat was vacated by new state senator David Yates weeks ago.
As of Monday, there were 12 qualified applicants for the seat, according to a spokesperson for the council. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
Next Monday at 4:30 p.m., the council’s Committee of the Whole will hold a special meeting to interview applicants. Lawmakers expect to finalize their pick at the next full council meeting, with a majority vote deciding who will next represent District 25.
While it’s too soon to know who that council member will be, Arthur and Armstrong are starting out their terms with new ideas, experiences and perspectives that could influence council business in the coming years.
Jecorey Arthur, District 4 Democrat
Arthur is a music professor at Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically Black institution, and a musician whose stage name is 1200. But he said he plans to devote most of his professional time to serving District 4.
He is a Democrat by party affiliation, but the philosophy underpinning his politics stems from his membership with the political advocacy group American Descendant of Slavery. Arthur said descendants of enslaved people in America have less access to wealth and resources, which is why they demand reparations from the federal government.
While Arthur doesn’t see reparations as something to be delivered by local government, he said that perspective will inform his approach on council.
“What it translates to [in] local government is that I can’t be afraid to speak honestly, and speak thoroughly, about the conditions that Black Americans face in the city,” Arthur said.
He said he hopes to join with the other six Black council members to push an agenda that will benefit Black Louisvillians and hold the mayor accountable on racial equity measures. Although this is Arthur’s first stint as an elected official, he is already known as an outspoken advocate of advancement for Black people.
District 4 includes downtown and neighboring Russell, one of the neighborhoods with the highest levels of Black residency. Russell is also an area of increased development, which brings with it gentrification and displacement.
Arthur said he wants to use the example of the changes happening in Russell to teach other residents of District 4 about issues that connect them across the diverse district.
“I have to bear the understanding that our constituents will not always be right,” he said. “And as much as they have to teach me about what they’re going through, I have to teach them about what others across the district are going through, where I live, what we are going through, and teach you about issues as well.”
He is critical of Mayor Greg Fischer’s racial equity plan, revealed late last year, saying he would have preferred a plan focused solely on helping Black Louisville residents because they need the most economic help.
Arthur promised that although the decisions he makes as a council member will consider the entirety of his constituency, he will not make choices that would hurt Black people.
Cassie Chambers Armstrong, District 8 Democrat
Armstrong is a lawyer with years of involvement with local Democratic politics. Like Arthur, she said she plans to treat her position as council member for District 8 as more than the part-time position it is ostensibly meant to be.
She said she intends to take a collaborative approach to helping make local laws. Armstrong, a former vice chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said party and the branch of government you serve shouldn’t prevent groups and people from working together.
“I’m willing to work with anyone who’s willing to work with me, be that in the executive branch, be that Republicans on the other side of the aisle, because I truly think that’s what people get frustrated with about politics is whenever sort of those breakdowns happen, and people don’t find a way,” she said.
The council and the mayor’s office are pinning hopes for some reforms on legislative change by state lawmakers in early 2021. So far, the Republican-dominated General Assembly has focused more on legislation related to curtailing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s powers during the pandemic, abortion access and the state’s budget.
Armstrong said city leaders will need to build consensus with state lawmakers, rather than allowing issues to fall along partisan lines.
She said that was her experience working on a bill with Democratic state senator Morgan McGarvey to build support for Jeanette’s Law, which allows low-income domestic violence survivors to stop paying legal fees for incarcerated spouses.
Armstrong hopes to replicate that success in working with local and state lawmakers as a council member.
“It can’t be an us versus them, it has to be a, ‘This is what’s good for everyone. So let’s find a way to move forward,’” she said. “And I believe in compromise, I believe in working together.”