Wednesday, November 09, 2011

First Democratic Caucus Battle Shaping Up?

Zach Adamson
Marion Co. Democrats broke new ground in yesterday's Indianapolis municipal elections by featuring three openly gay council candidates on the ballot which the party openly embraced and supported. Only at-large council candidate Zach Adamson was successful in yesterday's election. He finished third among the four Democratic at-large candidates elected in yesterday's council races, helping give the party a 16-13 majority on the council. He finished behind newcomers John Barth and Pamela Hickman but ahead of Leroy Robinson, also a newcomer. Adamson tells Fox 59 News' Zach Myers that he sees the election of a Democratic-controlled council as a mandate with leverage over Mayor Greg Ballard.

Zach Adamson (D), who is the first openly gay council member to be elected, believes the at-large sweep gives council Democrats a mandate and leverage with the mayor. 
“There's a big difference between having an open door and actually being home to answer it,” said Adamson. “Saying that your door is open, and not being willing to meet with us is two different things.”
Council Democrats already know they want to go over the city budget, which Mayor Ballard campaigned on as balanced.
"If you consider taking monies from the water sale and propping up your budget balanced, I suppose it is balanced,” said Adamson. “I suppose if you consider taking dollars from the downtown TIF district to prop up your budget balanced, I guess it's balanced.”
They also can be expected to push a new agenda, including a broader, comprehensive smoking ban in the city, more funding and marketing for Animal Care and Control and recognition of domestic partnerships for City-County employees, issues which will all eventually come down to money.
The Democrats' LGBT supporters have been pressing their council members hard to support domestic partner benefits for city-county employees. The issue is not new and has been bandied around for several years. CCC President Ryan Vaughn reportedly had reached an agreement this past year to provide bipartisan support for a domestic partner proposal offered by City-County Councilor Angela Mansfield. Vaughn backed down after the Ballard administration expressed reservations. Costs were cited as the reason, but others suspected Ballard feared a backlash from social conservatives in this year's election. Without fanfare, the Ballard administration over the past couple of years quietly began auditing the dependents claimed by some city-county employees in a cost-saving move and discovered cases where employees were improperly claiming domestic partners on their government-provided health insurance plans. Some employees caught doing this were fired and threatened with criminal prosecution if they didn't repay health insurance costs improperly charged to the city.

Maggie Lewis
Myers' story featuring an interview with Adamson included remarks by Democratic Councilor Maggie Lewis, who some party insiders say is maneuvering to become the next City-County Council President and first woman to hold that position. Lewis appears less than enthused about supporting domestic partner benefits. “I'm not sure that the city can truly afford additional insurance at this point,” said Lewis. “So that's a conversation that needs to take place." The LGBT community will be extremely upset with the Democratic-controlled caucus if domestic partner benefits are not passed by the council.
Some of Indianapolis' top corporate citizens, such as Eli Lilly and Wellpoint, provide domestic partner benefits to their employees as part of their diversity initiatives to recruit and attract top talent from diverse backgrounds. Lilly and Wellpoint were among top Indiana companies who lobbied against passage of a controversial constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages that some believe would also prohibit enforcement of domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. The amendment was approved by the legislature and will appear on the Indiana ballot for consideration by the state's voters if it is approved by the next General Assembly. Lewis' dismissive attitude towards domestic partner benefits could become a sore spot within the Democratic caucus before the newly-elected members take office in January, particularly if she should succeed in becoming the next council president.

Lewis' husband became the center of controversy recently when WRTV's Kara Kenney reported that he had been fired from his job in the Marion Co. Assessor's Office by former county assessor and Lewis' predecessor on the City-County Council, Greg Bowes, and later rehired. The current county assessor, Joseph O'Connor, in a controversial move rehired Leroy Lewis after he took office earlier this year upon his election to the office. Another Democratic council member, Mary Moriarty Adams, is a top official in O'Connor's office. Bowes told Kenney that he stood by his decision to fire Lewis for sexual harassment, misuse of his computer and failure to perform his work assignments.

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