Local Democratic Party leapfrogging Metro Council by selecting District 10 nominee before seat is filled

city hallNext week, Metro Council will interview the 13 candidates who have applied to fill the District 10 seat of the late Jim King and select his replacement, who will serve until an election in November.

But in a move some candidates say is intended to pressure the council and subvert that process, the Jefferson County Democratic Party is set to choose its own nominee for the November election on Feb. 8 — one day before the council begins its interviews. And insiders expect the party’s choice to be Pat Mulvihill, a former Fischer administration official who currently works in the Jefferson County Attorney’s office.

Carl Bensinger, JCDP’s legal counsel and parliamentarian, tells Insider Louisville that the candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for the District 10 seat in this fall’s election must have their resumes submitted by Thursday. On Sunday, their nominating committee will interview those candidates and choose a nominee for November.

Here’s how it works: The local party’s nominating committee includes members of the executive committee from the state legislative districts (30th, 35th and 42nd) within the council’s District 10. Each chair, vice chair and at-large member within those legislative districts will be eligible to vote. That vote is proportional to the number of registered Democrats who voted in District 10 in the last election. That gives the most weight to the votes of those in the 35th legislative district, which includes JCDP vice chair Mulvihill.

Rob Holtzman, campaign manager for former alderman Steve Magre, who is also seeking the District 10 council seat, tells Insider Louisville his candidate has decided not to participate in the party’s nomination process, and that the party is “trying to have the tail wag the dog.”

“They’re trying to put the Metro Council in a position where they have to vote for their nominee in order to create some sort of continuity, and the party is off base on that,” Holtzman says. “What you’re seeing is that the party (realizes) the likelihood of Pat Mulvihill being appointed by the council is decreasing … But I think they’re trying to use some aggressive power, and we’re quite disappointed.”

Holtzman says the nominating process is inherently rigged in favor of Mulvihill, which is why the party is taking the unprecedented step of making their nomination so early. The deadline to file for that election is in August.

Liz Dumbaugh Martin, a social work professor at the University of Louisville who has also applied for the open D-10 seat, says the local party is “definitely putting the cart before the horse.”

“I appreciate their effort to back a candidate. I just think that the true democratic process would be to listen to all 13 of us and what we have to say,” Martin says. “Because the question I would ask back to them would be, ‘What has Pat Mulvihill done in District 10?’ If you look at it that way, I’m not sure Pat Mulvihill would be the No. 1 candidate.”

Michael Meeks, a veteran of the Legislative Research Commission in Frankfort who is also applying for the D-10 seat, agrees that the process is to Mulvihill’s benefit, but he hopes party officials give each of the prospective candidates a fair chance.

“They still have to conduct the interviews and decide, and I think any one of the candidates that has a good showing and shows they’re the most qualified candidate has a good shot at swaying the other members of the party,” says Meeks. “It doesn’t upset me, because I believe I’m the best overall candidate.”

Meeks says the party’s motive for moving up their selection is “probably an attempt to sway the Metro Council in their decision the next day, or the next few days,” and that a prospective candidate who doesn’t get the nomination might decide to run as an Independent in November. He adds that council members of both parties may not decide to follow the Democratic Party’s lead when choosing the D-10 replacement, as they are likely to choose the best colleague to work with them, “and I’m not so sure that Pat is that person.”

As chair of the 42nd legislative district, Meeks’ brother — state Rep. Reginald Meeks — is a member of the nominating committee. However, his proportion of the vote is less than 2 percent, as his district makes up only a fraction of the council district. On the other hand, Mulvihill’s vote makes up 18 percent of the nominating committee.

“We have our process, and it’s a public perception problem with the local Democratic Party if that’s what they wish to do,” says Metro Council Democratic Caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt. “We’ll listen to all 13 applicants for the position, but we have not been influenced by the party in the past. I don’t know how much attention we’ll pay to them, because we’re trying to pick the best applicant for Metro Council.”

Steve Haag, director of the council’s Republican Caucus, tells Insider Louisville their members have a policy “not to give insiders or the politically well-connected an advantage over those who are less political and simply focus on serving the community. Our caucus has refrained from meeting with any candidate prior to the vote and will base our vote on our review of the resumes submitted, research presented by our staff and the interviews of each candidate.”

Holtzman says that whomever the council or local Democratic Party chooses, Magre will definitely run in next year’s primary for the council seat.

JCDP chairman Bill Ryan did not return a call seeking comment. Insider Louisville sought to ask Mulvihill if he would abstain from voting on the nominating committee, but he has not yet returned our call.