Politics

In Jefferson County, voters looking to cast a ballot for the next commissioner of the county’s “B” district are met with a blank slate.

No one filed to run for the position, and so no candidates are listed on election ballots. But that doesn’t mean a race isn’t brewing for the position that offers no pay and carries virtually no responsibility or authority.

Five people have registered with the Jefferson County Clerk as write-in candidates for the seat: Jomaris DeJesus, Sheri L. Ehrenborg, David Klaphaak Jr., Mark S. Lynch, and Daniel G. Stewart. 

Though write-in votes are often cast for an array of candidates both real and fake — namely, Mickey Mouse — they only count for people who are registered as a write-in candidate, said Nore Ghibaudy, a spokesman for the clerk’s office. 

The “C” district commissioner spot is also up for election, but has yet to attract such an interest from last minute hopefuls as the “B” district. Incumbent Kathleen Parks is listed on the ballot, and one write-in candidate, Dennisha Rivers, has filed with the clerk. 

The deadline to register as a write-in candidate is Friday at 4 p.m., Ghibaudy said.

Throughout Kentucky, county commissioners are powerful positions that have a heavy hand in doling out county budget funds. In Louisville, though, that’s not the case. The position, along with Judge Executive, Magistrate and Constable, was made largely obsolete after the Jefferson County government merged with the Louisville city government in 2003.

Louisville/Jefferson County Information Consortium

The three county commissioner districts. District “A” is in east Jefferson County, District “C” is in western Jefferson County, and District “B” is in between.

Here, the commission is composed of three members that each represent a geographically specific area. Each member serves four-year terms, but they aren’t compensated. The commission doesn’t meet, they don’t vote on anything, and they don’t allocate any funding. 

So, why are five people now rallying their friends and social media followers for votes? For some, it was the mere sight of the blank slate.

“For Democracy to work, we have to be engaged, people have to participate,” said Jomaris DeJesus, a 35-year-old professor from the Prestonia area.

She said her father served as a commissioner in Puerto Rico and she’s always envisioned she, too, would become a public servant. The blank state just seemed like fate. 

“I would like to find a way to bridge the gap between the regular person, the voter, and the office,” she said. “I want to hear what people think needs to be done.”

The story is much the same for Daniel G. Stewart, a 29-year-old banker from eastern Louisville. He’s often considered wading into the world of politics and the open commissioner ballot seemed like a good opportunity to get started. And, he said he wants to do some good for his community.

“I thought it was important for me to file because if I want good things to happen for our district. I can be that agent of change,” he said.

For the others, the reason for running isn’t so clear. Facebook posts show write-in candidates clamoring for votes, but offering little in the way of why they’re deserving. 

“I am alive and ready. Not sure there is anything else needed,” said Mark S. Lynch when questioned on Facebook about his qualifications. 

Sheri Ehrenberg announced her intent to file as a write-in candidate in a post on Facebook and asked her followers if they’ve “ever felt powerless to make change in your community.”

Jefferson County Clerk

An image of a sample ballot.

“I have,” she said. “Then I looked up a sample ballot for Jefferson county and noticed no one is on the ballot for district “B” county commissioner.  I thought, ‘Why not me?’”

The Jefferson County Commissioner role isn’t that of a change agent, so much as a platform to advocate for issues or garner name recognition, said Daniel Grossberg, the current commissioner for the “A” District.

“All we are doing are things that are perfunctory. Ceremonial,” he said. “The largest thing that we do is sometimes we give out awards or what not, for citizen involvement, or advocacy.”

Grossberg was first elected as the “A” District county commissioner in 2014 and again in 2016. He knew the scope of the job when he first ran, and saw it more as “a first step” into politics. 

And that’s just what he did. Grossberg now has his sights on the state House of Representatives. He lost the primary election earlier this year for the Democratic bid for the 30th district, but is already planning to run again next election.

Mike Rushing, the outgoing “B” district commissioner, did the same. He ran unsuccessfully for the 49th district seat in the state House of Representatives after serving one term on the county commission.

But Kathleen Parks sees it a bit differently. She’s running for a second term as commissioner and said she is passionate about the position, despite it’s dearth of power, authority, or responsibility.

She considers herself an activist, and said she’s used the position to elevate her ability to be a voice for her constituents by working for them “in the trenches.” She listens to complaints and concerns from citizens, then lobbies council members and city officials as the county commissioner to ask for assistance with issues like uncut grass on vacant properties.

“It’s basically an honorary position,” she said. “But I have done something with the position … and had success in terms of improving the community.”

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