Before trying to grasp why Jeff Gahan and Adam Dickey want to be rid of a reliably Democratic city council attorney, it’s important to understand the current balance of political power in the city of New Albany.
Gahan, who insists on thinking of himself as a Democrat despite voluminous practical evidence to the contrary, nonetheless probably stands at the apex of his career as mayor. All the civic levers are in his hands. Appointed committees move the slush into proper beak-wetting channels. There isn’t a newspaper willing or able to look past the song and dance to the stench beneath. It seems that Gahan is untouchable, and for the moment, he probably is.
However, there is one complicating factor looming increasingly large in Gahan’s rear view mirror. The 2015 election cycle brought three Republicans to seats on the city council for the first time in recent memory. One seat already was independent (Scot Blair), and then Dan Coffey defected from the Democratic Party, leaving the tally at 4 Democrats, 3 Republicans and 2 Independents.
In 2016, the Floyd County Democratic Party recorded its second consecutive county-wide electoral debacle, and now Gahan and those four council Democrats are the last bloc standing. The county, state and nation are solid red. No longer assured of a rubber-stamp council shoo-in, as when the tally was 7-1-1 during Gahan’s first term, measures must be taken to assure a fifth vote when necessary.
As such, Blair and Coffey are wild cards. They cannot form their own bloc, and so their votes are available to rent in terms of political favors.
We began seeing the dimensions of this new power balance during January’s first council meeting, when longtime council president and congenital Gahan yes-man Pat McLaughlin was re-elected 6-3, turning back a challenge from Al Knable with the help of both independent council members.
Blair happily conceded that he shopped his vote for McLaughlin, and why shouldn’t he? It’s reality, and the way an independent must operate. Concurrently, no one ever seriously doubted that Coffey’s move away from the Democratic Party was tactical; better to make one’s political capital worth a favor or three than be taken for granted by fellow office holders you detest.
Thus, we are magically transported to last evening’s second January council meeting, and the evening for appointments. Last night with tired, mezcal-infused eyes rolling, I surveyed the wreckage of the Human Rights Commission
Thursday’s drama began when Matt Nash motioned to extend the contract of longtime council attorney (and active Democratic Party member) Matt Lorch. With Bob Caesar mercifully absent, it immediately became apparent that fellow Democrat Greg Phipps was not going to provide a second to Nash’s motion.
Coffey verbally objected to the motion, placing him as in favor of terminating Lorch. Knable intervened and an agitated discussion ensued, centering on the power of the president (McLaughlin) in such cases. It now appeared that the Republicans and Nash were in favor of Lorch’s continuance, the remaining Democrats against, and Blair mum. Eventually the can was kicked down the road to the next meeting.
The Green Mouse subsequently has suggested that the impetus to remove Lorch emanates directly from Gahan and Democratic Party chairman Dickey, with council Democrats expected to rally around an inexorably wilting flag.
What are we to conclude from all his?
The only rational conclusion based on available evidence is that Coffey’s price for rejoining council Democrats, thus providing the necessary fifth vote in those rare occasions when Gahan hasn’t already fixed outcomes through appointed committees, is Lorch’s head on a platter. Coffey’s disdain for Lorch is well documented, and the Copperhead previously served as one of Gahan’s chief spear-carriers until the checks stopped coming. Rapprochement serves multiple purposes.
In this scenario, the checks to the Wizard of Westside resume, sparing Gahan the necessity of negotiating with Blair, whom he loathes.
However, taking these machinations at face value, it remains unclear whether Nash is bucking the party establishment, or merely seeks to do the right thing, a commodity quite rare on his side of the aisle.
It’s perfectly clear that the wheels are coming off what remains of the Floyd County Democratic Party. If we were to send a drone aloft to gaze at the respective checking accounts of local Democrats and Gahan’s political action committee, we’d find a huge disparity. The mayor is hugely flush, and Dickey’s oxcart tapped dry (ethically as well as financially).
Gahan surely is dictating Lorch decapitation terms. Dickey has no choice, and no backbone even if he did. Coffey gets back on the train, and Phipps isn’t even bothered to rehearse his increasingly trite Hamlet routine. Caesar and McLaughlin both want to be mayor. Blair continues to be cast out by both parties, and a Republican likely will win the next mayoral contest in any event.
Do you have an alternative scenario? Let me know. The entertainment won’t last forever, and it helps take our minds off the inauguration.