The “Illness Argument” in Lexington’s 3rd District City Council Race

May 21, 2012
By

A week ago we published a set of Question & Answers with the four candidates in Lexington’s Third District City Council race. One candidate — Daniel Cooper, the youngest — never responded. The other three — Stephanie Spires, Rock Daniels and incumbent councilmember Diane Lawless — did. You can read their answers in full here.

A couple of the candidate answers needed some follow up. We’ve already dug a bit deeper into Rock Daniels’ highly questionable contention that Diane Lawless wasted $100,000 of taxpayer money on a fraud investigation.

Another issue that came up was Ms. Spires assertion that Ms. Lawless is ill and possibly unfit for office:

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: Why do you feel the current councilmember needs to be replaced?

STEPHANIE SPIRES: When I decided last fall to run for the 3rd district council seat, I did not believe that Ms. Lawless would be seeking another term. She had been complaining of several illnesses and struggling to attend committee and board meetings and fulfill her obligations as a council member.

I think the 3rd district needs a representative that is committed to the position and is accessible to constituents and community leaders.

This seemed an interesting set of statements all begging further questions. So, I sent Ms. spires the following three:

1. You say that when you decided to run you “did not believe that Ms. Lawless would be seeking another term.” I’m curious about this because it implies that had you known she would be running, then you wouldn’t have run. But then, when you found out that she was running, why would you stay in the race? What changed in that time?

2. When you say that you did not believe she would be running, on what grounds did you come to this belief? Did she tell you? Did other people tell you? I am asking her if there was a time at which she was saying, in public or private, that she would not run, but I am curious as well what led you to this belief which then informed your decision to run.

3. Or was your belief based on an assumption about her health? You go on to state that she was “complaining of several illnesses.” What illnesses were these? Were they serious? Are they chronic or debilitating? This seems a heavy charge and if true is something worth understanding (again, I’ve asked Ms. Lawless to clarify her position) when evaluating performance. I was happy to post your answer, but it seems irresponsible of me to not ask for clarification of its basis.

Ms. Spires responded promptly:

I stayed in the race for 3rd District Council when I found out Diane was running because I did not enter this race specifically to challenge Diane.  I didn’t mean for my answer to imply that had I known Diane was running, I would have not run.  But your question was framed as why the current councilperson “needs to be replaced” and I tried to best answer that question.  I believe that my experience, community and energy make me the best candidate to represent the 3rd
District and that is why I am running.

I am not sure where I first heard that Diane was not running again, but I continue to meet people on a daily basis that seem surprised by her decision to run again.  In November, I announced my decision to run for 3rd District Council, and shortly after that Diane made an announcement on Facebook.  Although you asked for details, I am unaware of her full health profile, and I would respect her privacy in any event.  However, I know in our own conversations, as well as in
Council meetings and on Facebook, she has referenced illnesses that she has had.  These ailments seem to have been ongoing for some time; in fact, on August 2, 2010, a post on your blog, Barefoot & Progressive, referenced Diane’s absence from Council due to illness, stating “For starters, good to see Diane Lawless back and healthy(er) after her long illness.”  I know this was some time ago, but it shows that others have noted Diane’s absence from Council meetings or
related responsibilities based on illness.

As Mr. Daniels stated in his response to your questions, Diane has not had the best attendance at Council meetings, committee meetings, and other 3rd District Council commitments like Downtown Lexington Corporation Board meetings.  Yesterday, I attended an Itinerant Merchant Task Force meeting.  It was my understanding that Diane was to address an issue on the agenda, but she was not there.  The 3rd District needs a representative who is involved in the community,
understands the issues, shows up, and quickly responds to questions.

And there you go.

Now, I spoke with Ms. Lawless by phone and while I haven’t gotten an official statement from her in writing, which I’d prefer so it’s all clearly in her own words, I can tell you that she says she is not sick and that she didn’t publicly or privately suggest she wouldn’t run for re-election.

Indeed, as we have noted on this site in the past, Ms. Lawless has had health issues. She had cataract surgery and she had a rather vicious bout of the flu that landed her in the hospital. Was she dying? No. Did she return to office? Yes.

Regarding her attendance record, Ms. Lawless explained to me — and likely would explain to you or would have explained to Ms. Spires had she asked before getting into the race based in part upon hearsay and assumption –  says she works on average a 50 hour week and that her various committee, task force and community duties mean that sometimes she misses meetings because they conflict with each other.

Again, you can ask Diane about any of this and she’ll probably tell you, at length and in detail, about her regular day to day.

Do I believe her? Or do I believe that Ms. Lawless is indeed ailing and frail? I’m going to go with Ms. Lawless on this one and at this time.

If you talk to Diane, you find pretty quickly that she knows her issues. As noted in an earlier post, at the recent 3rd District candidates forum, Ms. Lawless often ran out of time in giving her answers — which you could suggest proves a time management issue, I suppose — but she ran out of time while giving in-depth explanatory answers. It’s easy to identify the police pensions as a big issue facing the city but to talk about it at length, explaining what has been done, how we got here, what we are trying to get to, what is being done, what could be done, and the various considerations involved… that takes time and its Diane’s performance was certainly not one that suggests a flailing mind or a sickness that prevents her from performing the duties of a city council member.

And that’s sort of the point. This is a city council seat. It’s not glamorous. It’s about fixing curbs, it’s about questioning shit about sewers. That’s the day to day. There are moments that galvanize a community, but a city council member is signing up for the drudgerous minutia.

Diane Lawless is older, to be sure, but cataract surgery and a really bad case of the flu are hardly enough to disqualify someone from office. Ms. Lawless, also, appears to be running for reelection because she enjoys representing her constituents.

Ms. Spires clearly has a passion for the neighborhood and the district. She is impressive on the topics at hand. She would likely be just as good a council member as Lawless already is. She reminds me greatly of the 2008 version of Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Back then, Lundergan Grimes ran in the special election to succeed Kathy Stein in the State House. Ms. Lundergan Grimes, though highly competent and quite impressive, misunderstood the nature of the Fighting 75th. Her endorsers for the race were a representative of the Mountaintop Removal Lobby and Dudley Webb’s partner, Joe Rosenberg… he who spearheaded the mindless demolition of Downtown Lexington’s historic core. [See here and also here.]

Ms. Lundergan Grimes lost that race not because she wasn’t qualified for it but rather because she wasn’t prepared to represent the true interests — and voters — of Kathy Stein’s District.

Ms. Spires is similarly impressive. One can easily imagine a successful political career for her into the future and as with Grimes, one suspects that her true political positions are more liberal than she might on the surface let on.

But in Lexington’s 3rd District, one has to wonder if the “illness argument” is going to resonate with voters… or backfire. Many of the most active folks in these neighborhoods appear to still have strong support for Ms. Lawless.

Ms. Spires says “neighbors and downtown business leaders” asked her to run for office. There’s no reason to doubt that, and based on what Ms. Spires has campaigned on there’s no reason to think those business leaders are the Dudley Webbs of Lexington seeking to remove the bothersome Ms. Lawless to finesse the Council’s balance of power rather than the good and upstanding business leaders we all know and love.

But that’s the problem with insinuation in this town and in this District. On a primary day which promises low turnout in a District that generally turns out high amongst its hard core neighborhood voters, it will be interesting to see how Ms. Spires, Ms. Lawless, Mr. Daniels and Mr. Cooper all perform.

And how their various arguments play with these neighborhood voters.

Ms. Spires is a strong candidate and, as said, could be a great council member. Her willingness to go to the matt in campaigning is a promising prospect for future campaigns on bigger scales. Similar to Ms. Lundergan Grimes, it’s good to see a strong campaign coming from the younger ranks and changing the face of state politics.

But how far does that similarity go? Grimes needed to lose that race because she didn’t understand who she was talking to. Ms. Spires may well know exactly who she’s talking to and that’s why it will be very interesting to see how the voters take her argument.

Oh… and since we’ve not gotten around to posting this yet (we’ve been very busy, sorry!, and we’re going to continue to be busy, sorry!), here’s Ms. Spires campaign introduction video:

And if you missed it in the Herald — which rightfully endorsed Spires and Lawless in the race — the campaign cash in the race is roughly thus:

Spires had raised $12,891.00 and spent $12,653.85, according to the report. Lawless reported raising $12,896.04 and spending $4,382.55. Daniels reported raising $8,805 and spending $7,789.41. Cooper trails the other candidates, raising $220 and spending $31.21.

One Response to The “Illness Argument” in Lexington’s 3rd District City Council Race

  1. Felonious Monk on May 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    You see the circles under Stephanie’s eyes…
    How do you say foster mom of 2 special needs?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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