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Louisville Metro Council president vows to prevent vote on cease-fire resolution

People seated in rows of blue chairs hold signs that say "CEASE FIRE NOW" and "VOTE YES ON THE CEASEFIRE RESOLUTION"
Roberto Roldan
Supporters of the cease-fire resolution packed Louisville Metro Council chambers on March 6, 2024, for the committee vote.

A Louisville Metro Council committee voted Wednesday afternoon in favor of a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza, but the council president said he won’t allow a final vote on the measure.

The resolution, sponsored by Metro Council Members Jecorey Arthur and Shameka Parrish-Wright, asks Louisville’s legislative body to weigh in on whether they support a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. It states that “there is no military solution to this conflict” and calls on President Joe Biden and Louisville’s representatives in Congress to “facilitate a ceasefire encompassing all parties involved.”

Resolutions are not law, but rather statements of Metro Council’s wishes.

Members of the council’s Equity, Community Affairs, Housing, Health and Education Committee voted 4-3 to send the cease-fire resolution to the full council with a recommendation to approve it. During the meeting, however, Council President Markus Winkler — who is not a member of the committee and did not vote — said he wouldn’t bring the legislation up for a final vote next Thursday, regardless of what the committee decided.

“I think nationalizing council is bad policy,” he said. “Why should we not vote on where we stand on IVF, where we stand on abortion, where do we stand on gun control … Why not have council vote on every single national issue?”

Winkler, a District 17 Democrat, encouraged the dozens of cease-fire supporters who attended the meeting to reach out to their Congressional representatives, which he said would be more effective than a Metro Council resolution. Americans who want the war in Gaza to end have already taken that approach for months.

On Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris called for a temporary cease-fire and the release of hostages. News reports say negotiations between Israel and Hamas are tenuous.

In recent months, dozens of city councils across the United States have voted on resolutions related to the war, according to a Reuters analysis.

Under Metro Council rules, the president is responsible for chairing all regular meetings and “guiding and directing the proceedings of the Council, subject to the control and will of the Council.”

In an interview after the meeting, Winkler said he couldn’t recall previous situations when a council president decided not to allow a vote on legislation that reported favorably out of committee and over the objection of its sponsor. But he said he felt “forced” to do so because any vote would be hurtful to people on the opposite side of the issue.

By blocking a final vote, Winkler would be essentially handing a loss to people who support the resolution.

After the vote, Arthur walked into the gallery to celebrate the resolution’s passage with supporters. The District 4 Independent said he was “very disappointed” by Winkler’s comments.

“It shows that the people’s Metro Council doesn’t belong to the people,” Arthur said. “You have people filling these chambers … who are demanding us to pay attention to this issue and support a cease-fire. When you say, ‘No, we’re not going to vote on this,’ you’re essentially ignoring them. And I don’t think that’s right.”

Arthur also criticized Winkler for arguing Metro Council shouldn’t take a stand on national or international issues. He noted that Winkler previously sponsored a resolution in support of Ukraine, and Mayor Craig Greenberg had the Big Four Bridge lit up with the colors of the Israeli flag after the war began last fall.

“So, you don’t get to then turn around and contradict us and say we don’t get to internationalize Metro Council when you’ve already internationalized Metro Council,” he said.

In a statement, spokesperson Scottie Ellis said the Greenberg administration supports Winkler’s decision not to allow a final vote on the cease-fire resolution.

The current war began after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel, in which about 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 taken hostage. Israel responded with a full-scale military attack and restricted the entry of vital supplies, including food, medicine and water. More than 30,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed due to the Israeli response, according to the Gaza health ministry, and that number continues to rise.

Local groups flood Metro Council with comments

The resolution’s sponsors filed the proposal last month. Since then, Parrish-Wright, a District 3 Democrat, said she and Arthur have worked to address colleagues’ concerns and opposition from community groups.

They introduced an amended version Wednesday afternoon that cuts some of the most controversial sections.

The newest version of the resolution removed references to “collective punishment and violence against civilians,” which would be considered war crimes, and Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The compromise resolution no longer calls on the federal government to halt military aid to Israel, instead asking officials to prioritize local spending on gun violence, affordable housing and other pressing issues.

Parrish-Wright said the feedback she received from residents was overwhelmingly positive.

“Ninety-eight percent of the people that are contacting me, on all sides, are saying they support this [resolution], even Jewish people,” she said.

Some of the residents who asked her to sponsor this legislation have family in Gaza, Parrish-Wright said.

“Louisville is growing as a community where immigrant families come, people from all over the world come to be home,” she said. “I want them to know that no matter where you come from, you’re welcome and we’re listening.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, District 9 Democrat Andrew Owen said the comments his office received have been evenly split for and against the measure. Owen voted present in committee.

One of the groups that reached out to Metro Council was an interfaith coalition of 115 clergy and others. They sent an open letter to representatives last month, asking them to support the cease-fire resolution.

Rev. Angela Johnson, pastor of Grace Hope Presbyterian Church in Smoketown, said her position on the issue is informed by her faith and her work in the community. Johnson said she’s heard arguments from people on both sides of the war, but she’s come down on the side of peace.

“We just want people to be able to live without fear,” she said. “I think of the women, the children, the grandparents, it’s just unbelievable how people are having to live and the people that have died.”

Amid mass displacement and widespread risk of famine in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live, aid organizations have reported difficulty in distributing food and supplies to desperate residents. The U.S. started airdropping goods into the cut-off area over the weekend, a move one aid expert described as a last resort.

The Louisville Ceasefire Coalition also supports the resolution. It’s made up of various activist and community groups, including the Louisville chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice. A month ago, members of the Ceasefire Coalition blocked traffic into two arms manufacturing companies in Louisville as a show of protest.

Carla Wallace, one of the 15 people arrested during that action, said in a written statement on Feb. 6 that U.S. military aid to Israel has local impacts.

“We have needs here at home for affordable housing, for jobs, for health care, for education,” Wallace said. “Funds used for weapons to kill people in Gaza could be used to care for people in Kentucky and elsewhere.”

The resolution also received intense opposition ahead of the vote, including from the Jewish Federation of Louisville. The Federation called it “divisive” and created a template for its members to email Metro Council.

Amy Landon, senior director of marketing and communications for the Jewish Community of Louisville, an organization which includes the Federation, said nothing in the resolution “facilitates the dialogue our community needs right now.”

“If this matter makes it to full Council, we hope that the Councilmembers realize that the last thing we need is to further divide,” she said.

Landon said she doesn’t think the resolution will bring about the release of hostages, end terrorism in the Middle East or lead to permanent peace.

The full Metro Council will meet on Thursday, March 14, when they could try to override Winkler’s decision to block the vote.

This story has been updated to clarify that Andrew Owen voted present.

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

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