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Louisville Metro Council Presidency Contest Gains Some Clarity

The Louisville Metro Council chooses its next president this evening, and the race appears to be between a veteran Republican councilman and a Democrat who recently challenged the body's sitting leadership.

Either Democrat David Yates or Republican Kelly Downard will likely walk away from the meeting as council president, a post that comes with both organizational power and unofficial clout in city government.

Tonight's vote will happen a little more than a day after sitting council President David Tandy announced he would neither seek the post again nor run for re-election to his District 4 seat later this year.

Tandy's leadership on the council has been under fire from Democratic colleagues — chief among them Yates. He announced late last year that he'd challenge Tandy for the council presidency. The dispute erupted last month in a heated caucus meeting in which the Democrats failed to endorse one of their own — either Tandy or Yates — for the post. Eleven votes were needed to win the endorsement, but eight went for Yates and six went for Tandy.

Still, Tandy's decision to step aside came as a surprise, and it appears to clear the path for Yates to win Democratic support.

But there are no guarantees.

Yates said he's hopeful Tandy's departure from the race will bring unity to the Democratic Caucus. But he also acknowledged stark divisions among the group. In November, he told The Courier-Journal he had concerns that fellow Democrats would be "willing to cross over and vote for one of the minority Republicans."

In an interview Wednesday with WFPL, he said he doesn't anticipate that will be the case, but "that's always a possibility."

Democrats hold a 17-9 majority over the Republicans in the Metro Council.

Yates is an attorney who represents areas in south Louisville, including Pleasure Ridge Park, Valley Station and Waverly Hills. He's been on the council since 2010.

Downard is a certified public accountant who represents parts of east Louisville, including Prospect, Spring Valley and Glenview Manor. He was first elected in 2002, among the first crop of council member to take office after city-county merger. He's previously served as council president and unsuccessfully challenged then-Mayor Jerry Abramson in 2006.

Downard said Tandy's absence from the race simply means there is one fewer person vying for the seat. When asked how it could affect his support, Downard said he won't know who is supporting him until he walks out of the council meeting tonight.

"Until then, it's just really fluid," he said. "As these changes happen and people get in and out, I continue to try to keep a steady road and talking about what I want to do and why I want to be president."

Downard has already confirmed he won't be seeking re-election after his current term expires at the end of this year. He said if he's elected president, he'll work to improve the council's processes.

"I have a lot of ideas in terms of how we put legislation through, in terms of how we do appointments," he said, adding that he'll look to work with members from both parties to "get a consensus of where we need to be."

Yates said if he's elected, one of his major goals will to bring some unity among the council, and between the council and the Mayor Greg Fischer's office.

"For the city of Louisville and the greater good of the community, it would be really nice to see us all come together," he said.

Yates added that whoever is elected the next council president will "have their work cut out for them."

On Wednesday, Tandy said the caucus split had nothing to do with his decision.

Tandy said his tenure as president will leaving the council in a good position moving forward.

"I feel good about the service that I provided for the people of Louisville, and I look forward to all the future holds for us," he said.

Tandy also said he'll support the Democratic candidate for the council presidency.

"That's the way I hope it will go, but I can't necessarily predict what the future will be," he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.