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Republicans flip seats in Louisville Metro Council for the first time since merger

city Hall
city Hall

For the first time since the City of Louisville and Jefferson County merged governments in 2003, Republicans on Metro Council are set to gain seats on the 26-member body. 

This week, Republican candidates Khalil Batshon and Dan Seum, Jr. successfully flipped two south Louisville districts, collectively covering the neighborhoods of Pleasure Ridge Park, Okolona and Fairdale. These areas are currently represented by District 13’s Mark Fox and District 25’s Amy Holton Stewart, both Democrats. While these two wins won’t be enough to upset the Democratic majority in Metro Council, Republicans are hopeful it will spur more bipartisanship and give them momentum in future elections.

District 19 Council Member Anthony Piagentini, chair of the Republican Caucus, told WFPL News Thursday he views the election a win for his party. He said Republicans’ overarching message of fighting for residents living outside of Louisville’s urban core clearly resonated in the South End. 

“What people are seeing there is that Republicans [in Metro Council] have been fighting for people that don’t live downtown,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re ignoring downtown or the West End, we love those areas, but folks outside of the Watterson Expressway have had very few voices in City Hall and Metro Hall.”

Louisville’s consolidated local government has never had a Republican mayor and Democrats have always held power in Metro Council. 

Piagentini said Tuesday’s election results may lead to a bigger Republican presence in Metro Council committees and other positions of power when new members take office in early January. Democrats, meanwhile, are downplaying the expected effect.

“What about us?”

Seum, who is the son of former Republican state Senator Dan Seum, won the District 13 Metro Council race with nearly 56% of the vote. About 700 votes separated him and Fox, a moderate Democrat and retired Louisville Metro Police officer who was looking for his second four-year term.

During his campaign, the younger Seum played into voters’ perceptions that south Louisville is just an afterthought when it came to divvying up the city’s more than $700 million general fund budget. He said Thursday kids are “sitting on splinters for benches” in Nelson Hornbeck Park in the Fairdale neighborhood, while other areas of Jefferson County are thriving. 

“Other districts are getting more attention than what the South End does, and we see that,” he said. “We see that in our youth programming, our community parks.”

While out on the campaign trail, Seum said voters in his South End district shared concerns about Louisville Metro Government’s priorities. Particularly in working class neighborhoods like Fairdale, Seum said residents constantly ask, “What about us?” whenever city officials announce new infrastructure or economic development projects.

Seum promised voters he would champion their needs in Metro Council: more youth programming, new investments in Jefferson Memorial Forest and more money for drainage infrastructure in areas considered floodplains. 

“We just want to bring a shared focus,” he said. “We’ve been neglected long enough.”

In District 25, which borders District 13 to the northwest, Batshon defeated incumbent Democrat Holton Stewart by a similar margin, garnering more than 52% of the vote. Batshon is a lifelong resident of Louisville’s South End and a small business owner. He operates Khalil’s, a neighborhood bar and grill along Dixie Highway in Valley Station.

Like Seum, Batshon also recognized residents’ feelings of neglect. On his campaign website, he wrote that “the time has come for the people of the South End to stop being overlooked and under-appreciated.”

Batshon told WFPL Thursday that voters in his district want to see the city invest in a project that will bring pride to the area.

“People in this community want something where they can say, ‘Hey, we live here because we have this amazing thing,’” he said. “It could be a destination. It could be an outstanding, over-the-top park. It could be an amazing community center that does so much great for the youth. Anything that’s big and creates a destination.”

Batshon and Seum’s messaging around centering the needs and concerns of residents living outside of Louisville’s urban core also got a boost from the top of the ticket. A common refrain from Republican mayoral candidate Bill Dieruf was the need to unite all Louisvillians living in the urban core and out in the county.

Dieruf lost the mayoral election by a six-point margin to Democrat Craig Greenberg. But he amassed support in the suburban and rural parts of the county, including the small city of Jeffersontown, where he is in his final year as mayor.

Piagentini, Metro Council’s Republican Caucus chair, said he believes Republican success in some Metro Council races and the County Clerk’s race — incumbent Bobbie Holsclaw won her seventh consecutive term — should send a message to Greenberg’s incoming Democratic administration that he has “a victory, not a mandate.”

For his part, Greenberg has recognized the tension between City Hall and suburban residents and said he wants to work with Metro Council representatives to better serve them.

Conservative candidates in Jefferson County also focused intently on public safety. This midterm election came on the heels of two years of record-breaking homicides and gun violence in 2020 and 2021. 

Piagentini said the increase in violent crime, coupled with the hundreds of officer vacancies within the Louisville Metro Police Department, has drawn police resources away from the suburbs. And he said promises to invest more money into the police department and support officers clearly resonated with those voters.

“You get into some of these areas in the South End and the East End, you should buy a lottery ticket every time you see an LMPD officer,” he said. “So in the overarching message of ‘they feel neglected,’ one of the primary things under that is public safety.”

A shifting balance of power?

Democrats will continue to have a sizable majority in Metro Council, as well as the mayor’s office. After new members are sworn-in early next year, there will be 17 Democrats and 9 Republicans on the legislative body. 

The Democrats will, however, lose their two-thirds supermajority. That means they will not be able to shut down debate on a piece of legislation all on their own, although that has rarely happened in recent years.

Piagentini said the biggest change may be the balance of power in Metro Council’s twelve standing committees. Those committees review new legislation and vote on whether to forward ordinances or resolutions to the full Council for a final vote. 

Currently, Republicans have proportionate representation on the various committees, with each having two or three minority party members. Piagentini said Republicans will likely increase their number of seats on various committees, come January.

“That movement actually does shift the amount of votes you have in these committees fairly significantly,” he said. “It’s not going to be revolutionary, but on the margins, it is going to have an impact on some of the day-to-day votes, some of the things that happen in Metro Council.”

District 17 Council Member Markus Winkler, who heads the Democratic Caucus and won reelection to a second four-year term this week, downplayed the significance of Republican gains when speaking to WFPL on Thursday. He pointed out Republicans had already lost two seats in 2018, when he and District 7’s Paula McCraney were voted into office. This Tuesday’s election only put Republicans back where they were four years ago.

Winkler said many decisions within Metro Council are already made with bipartisan support, so he doesn’t believe the political dynamic will actually change much. In the past, Republicans have unanimously supported Democrat David James for Metro Council President.

“We try very hard to work together,” he said.

Winkler said he believes Metro Council has made efforts in recent years to ensure funding is spread out across the county. Using the recent allocations of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funds as an example, he highlighted millions of dollars that were directed to Jefferson Memorial Forest and Farnsley-Moremen Landing. 

Winkler acknowledged that residents and state leaders in southern Jefferson County have become frustrated with Louisville Metro Government, but he laid blame for that at the feet of outgoing Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer.

“I think the current administration has failed to articulate priorities across the county, execute on those and understand the different interests of people across a very diverse county,” he said. 

The take-home for Democrats from Tuesday’s election, Winkler said, is that “the majority of people in our city are in the middle,” and Louisville leaders need to recognize the diversity of lived experiences across the county.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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