February 3, 2010

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

If the crowded mayoral race gets rough as observers predict, the brunt of the fighting will likely transpire between Metro Councilman Jim King and businessman Greg Fischer over their labor credentials. In the Democratic primary field, labor unions are considered pillars of the party, and those official seals of support are critical.

Fischer leads with the number of union endorsements, but the King campaign hopes to gain some ground in the coming weeks.

The two candidates are currently vying for a nod from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2629, which represents well over 1,100 Metro government employees. Last week, union members met with both mayoral hopefuls, and despite significant pressure from state lawmakers who are supporting Fischer, the union is holding off on an endorsement for now.

Thus far, the two campaigns have remained mostly cordial when discussing their labor positions, only sniping at each other sparingly. That’s likely to change as vocal supporters get more personal.

One Fischer supporter, John Brasch, president of Brasch-Barry General Contractors Inc., recently called our offices to defend his candidate’s labor record and criticize King.

The outspoken business owner and registered Republican was upset that this column highlighted Fischer’s friendship with Joe Kelley, a fellow Republican and president of Kelley Construction Inc. The article pointed out that Kelley was featured as a supporter on Fischer’s campaign website, and that he’s been characterized by critics as a “union buster” for turning his father’s company into a non-union workforce.

“Let me tell you something, guy, Greg Fischer’s going to win this election,” says Brasch. “If (King) gets elected mayor of Louisville, we’re going to be on ‘The Tonight Show’ every night making jokes about our city.”

The personal attacks — which went much further than the above quote — stem from a longstanding and very vocal gripe Brasch has with King: When King co-sponsored a fair labor standards ordinance in 2009 — establishing minimum requirements for building projects that use substantial public financing — Brasch picketed outside both City Hall and King Southern Bank in opposition.

“Mr. Brasch’s positions are clearly in opposition to our campaign’s goals. He is proud to be a union buster. He brags about standing against the fair labor standards agreement,” says Jonathan Hurst, King’s campaign manager. “We never sought Mr. Brasch’s support. He doesn’t believe in organized labor, and I hope Mr. Fischer does the same thing that we’re doing. Hopefully, Greg Fischer will not seek the endorsement of an individual who is so anti-labor.”

The Fischer campaign made it clear Brasch has no relationship with their candidate, other than his wife being one of their many financial contributors.

“It’s not our expectation that the media will continue to ask questions about every person that has given money, volunteers or supports the campaign,” says Brandon Coan, a Fischer campaign spokesman. “These aren’t questions about Greg Fischer. Those are their positions and not Greg’s positions.”

•••

Frustrated by the tendency of Mayor Jerry Abramson to appoint people predominately from the “downtown business district and the East End” to Metro boards and commissions, at least nine council Democrats have co-sponsored a city bill seeking to ensure more diversity and wide-ranging community participation.

Sponsored by Councilman Rick Blackwell, D-12, the ordinance would require Metro government to strive for proportionate representation from across the city. The engine behind the legislation came after many council members felt that the mayor’s four appointments to the Bi-State Ohio River Bridges Authority didn’t adequately represent the city.

“It says that we should strive for geographic representation. We already do that and have always done that,” says mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter. “We don’t believe it should be mandatory because it could create problems for the next administration. But as long as there is leeway allowed for particular skill sets and professions we don’t object to it.”

•••

Since Mayor Abramson announced he wasn’t running for another term, members of the Metro Council have been eager to urge the state legislature to tinker with merger laws established when city and county government joined forces in 2003.

Last week, the council unanimously approved a resolution requesting state lawmakers establish a clear and immediate line of mayoral succession. Currently, state law gives the council 30 days to select a replacement, but doesn’t specify who would immediately assume the duties of mayor. Sponsored by Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, the suggested change would elevate the council president to the Mayor’s Office in the case of the mayor’s death or incapacitation until the council can elect a successor.

It’s unlikely, however, that the council will get any other recommendations to Frankfort before the legislative session ends.

After hearing about potential last-minute amendments by colleagues to his mayoral term limits resolution and feeling the process was being rushed, Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, who ignited the debate over amending merger law, decided to pull his sponsorship. Last October, the councilman proposed a resolution that recommends state lawmakers change the number of consecutive four-year terms the mayor can serve from three to two.

The rumored amendments included council term limits, reducing the number of council meetings and allowing for an audit of quasi-governmental agencies.

“It seemed that all of a sudden everyone wanted to piggyback and rush just to get it up to Frankfort, and that’s not what I want to happen,” says Ackerson. “I believe each change to (merger law) we send to Frankfort should be debated separately and bundled all together later. The legislature does not want a 14-to-12 split on every measure. That is not an overwhelming cry for change.”

Though the delays have cancelled any opportunity to get those suggestions to Frankfort in time, sources at City Hall say the debate will continue and that the mayoral election will be the new deadline to pass a bundle of merger law resolutions. Metro government insiders believe council members aren’t particularly interested in passing any resolution that would threaten their entrenched incumbency. 

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