Louisville Magazine

MAR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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106 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.19 SISTER IN HISTORY WE Former Metro Council- member Cheri Bryant Hamilton charts her future by exploring her past. BY MARY CHELLIS NELSON PHOTO BY DANNY ALEXANDER On Election Day in November, Cheri Bryant Hamilton went to several cemeteries in town where local suffragists were being honored. At Eastern Cemetery next to Cave Hill, a sign credited Fannie Givens with being the first African-American woman to serve in the city's police department, beginning her job in 1927. But Hamilton had always heard from police officers that Bertha Whedbee had gained that distinction in 1922. "So I had a conflict," Hamilton says. She got in touch with the Frazier History Museum, which spearheaded the gravesite project and had its people go back to their sources. e police department's records were correct, and, by the next day, retired and active-duty officers had raised nearly $3,000 for a monument for Whedbee, and a ceremony at Louisville Cemetery on Poplar Level Road had been scheduled to honor her. "Just little things like that," Hamilton says, reflective as she thinks back on her career as a councilmember for District 5, covering parts of the west Louisville neighborhoods Portland, Shawnee, Russell and Chickasaw. "Little victories to cross off the list." She says holding a higher office never interested her. "is is where the rubber hits the road, where you get that pothole paved or you get that sidewalk or you get that grant to help this organization do what they're doing," she says. Her 18-year tenure, which ended Dec. 31, is the longest of any elected female city official. She lost the May primary amid last-minute allegations that she had committed ethics violations by using taxpayer money to fund tickets to a Louisville Urban League Derby gala. She denied the accusations and was later cleared of them, but only after her opponent, Donna Purvis, won by just more than 150 votes. Hamilton declines to talk in detail about the controversy but says, "You hope people wouldn't run dirty campaigns or underhanded tactics, but that's still alive and well. But I never ran a race like that." One of her first votes as an alderwoman (before city-county merger in 2003) had helped pass the full extent of the Fairness Ordinance, which named sexual orientation as a protected class for equal opportunity. Hamilton says that vote is one of her proudest moments in office. An ordinance she was particularly conflicted about was the 2008 smoking ban. She had been a smoker for years, even though her two children and her physician father always got on her about the habit. (e city health director at the time even tried to hypnotize her to help her stop smoking. "It didn't take," she says, laughing, though she eventually did quit.) At the time, she thought neighborhood hangouts could likely go under if smoking indoors was banned. Ultimately, her family's voices kept playing in her head. "I had to think about the greater good and the health of the community," she says of her vote to help pass the ban. During her time in office, she also experienced more than a little frustration. Like when the Metro Council passed a minimum-wage increase and gun-control legislation, and the state struck down both. She also mentions how attempts to build affordable housing in certain parts of town drew backlash and concerns over traffic or property values. "People don't want things in their backyard," she says. "ey fear." In west Louisville, she worked to magnify issues surrounding things like transitional housing, and she helped pass an ordinance to stop alcohol sales in the Shawnee neighborhood. "We were getting bombarded with requests for 4 a.m. (liquor) licenses and new liquor stores," Hamilton says. Bonnie Cole, president of the Shawnee Neighborhood Association, says, "People told us that it was a waste of our time, but she worked with us. "She actually brought the government to us — different departments and their purposes, key persons who you need to contact," Cole continues. "When she lost the election, somebody from Newburg said, 'Hey, do you think she could move out here with us? We want her.' When you hear people outside your community talk about her, you realize what you have." Had Hamilton taken her election loss hard? "You would think so," she says, "but I've — frankly, before I filed for this last run, we were all together as a family in Washington and I was like, 'I don't know if I've got another four years in me, you know?' I was feeling that it was time to give it up, but I couldn't decide and everybody was like, 'Oh, do one more time.' I said, 'Maybe I'll do two years and turn it over to somebody and really groom somebody to take the seat.' Of course, you always want to go out on your own terms."

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