It hasn't been an easy year for District 9 Councilor Twanda Carlisle.
Last May, the district attorney began investigating her spending habits, which included paying nearly $60,000 for consulting work to a friend and a man who owns a home with Carlisle's mother. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala has been investigating that and other discretionary spending -- nearly $178,000 of it -- since Carlisle took office in 2002.
Carlisle has also been the target of impeachment efforts, though the petitions were later dismissed. And when it came time for her re-election, nearly a dozen potential challengers stepped forward.
But perhaps the biggest blow came Sunday, when Carlisle placed third in the race for the Democratic Party endorsement. She was the only city council incumbent not to receive the party's support.
The endorsement went to 22-year-old Homewood resident Rachel Cooper, with Lincoln-Lemington's Leah Kirkland placing second. Carlisle finished third, with just over half the votes Cooper garnered.
At a Feb. 28 community forum held at the Union Project, Cooper and six other challengers showed up to make their bid for Carlisle's seat. The candidates answered audience questions for about an hour and 15 minutes. Carlisle showed up during the last five minutes of the presentation, saying she had a speaking engagement. She gave a three-minute response to a pre-submitted question, and took no audience questions.
At the forum, candidates were asked if they would back out and support the endorsed candidate if they didn't receive the party's backing. While some weren't clear on their intentions, at least three of the candidates indicated they would stay in the race regardless. Two of those, community activist Judith Ginyard and former Carlisle aide Sean Carter said they hadn't sought the party endorsement in the first place. The other candidates attending were the Rev. Ricky Burgess and city school-board member Randall Taylor. Gerald Brown, a former city employee from Lincoln-Lemington, did not appear but sent his wife as a surrogate.
Some observers warn that Carlisle will benefit from the large number of challengers, who could split the anti-incumbent vote between them. At the forum, however, Cooper said the large number of challengers said a lot about Carlisle's leadership.
When critics say "we're going to split the vote amongst ourselves and the incumbent is going to get back in, it disappoints me because you're selling District 9 short," Cooper said. "Don't you think [voters] are just as tired as we are of the status quo?
"They're going to pick the best-qualified person, and if that's not the incumbent ... then it will be the most qualified person. Don't sell the district short and believe that they are OK with mediocrity."
Even so, while Cooper seemed to win the first battle to unseat Carlisle, she faces a crowded field.
"If I was going to wait until [the day after the party endorsement] and then drop out," Carter said at the event, "I could be home with my grandmother watching Lost and American Idol right now.
"I know I'm not dropping out because the endorsed candidate doesn't always win. That's why we have elections."
- Photo by Charlie Deitch
- Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle, left, may be the incumbent but it was challenger Rachel Cooper who received the Democratic Party nomination and the upper hand in the race for the District 9 council seat.