Democrats on the Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night fought back against what they called a leadership “coup” from a member of their own party, taking the first steps needed to remove the body’s new president.
In a series of two procedural votes, first 12 council members and then 13 voted to put the question of Democrat Stephen Clay’s removal as president on the next council meeting's agenda. A final vote to remove Clay from the role could take place in mid-February.
The first vote was 12-11, with Republican Jeff Miller joining all 11 Democrats who were present at the meeting (except Clay) voting to add the question on the next agenda. Ten Republicans plus Clay voted against it.
The second vote was 13-0 with nine Republicans plus Clay abstaining and allows the question to be considered in February.
The move to oust Clay has been led by Democrat Joe Simpson, who is one of the five Democrats that voted earlier this month to replace former president Maggie Lewis with Clay, signifying that Simpson has flipped his support.
Also voting to put the question of Clay’s removal on the agenda was William “Duke” Oliver, who also originally voted to replace Lewis with Clay.
"Tonight, a majority of the Indianapolis City-County Council rejected the political gamesmanship of Council President Stephen Clay, rendering a vote of no confidence in his ability to effectively lead this legislative body," read a statement issued by 11 Democratic members.
The effort to remove Clay as president, who rose to power earlier this month by joining with the majority of the council’s Republicans, must garner 13 votes at the council's next meeting to succeed. Absent from Monday's meeting were the two other council members who supported Clay—Majority Leader Monroe Gray and LaKeisha Jackson.
Lewis' ouster caused turmoil in the local Democratic party, in part because Clay has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Also, shortly after becoming president, Clay gave Republicans more power on the Democrat-led council, by assigning them to chair to three committees: ethics, public works, and rules.
The 11 Democrats who banded together to try to oust Clay said in their statement that "we've learned that Councillor Clay's ascent to the presidency was secured through means unbefitting the important duties of his office."
"He deceived members of the Democratic Caucus, struck deals that amounted to little more than quid pro quo political maneuvering, and ultimately betrayed the trust of voters who elected a Democratic majority to govern," the statement said. "He is unfit to serve as President of the Indianapolis City-County Council, and we intend to take the necessary steps to ensure he no longer mars the important work we have ahead.
Minority Leader Mike McQuillen, a Republican, sought to block Democrats from putting the question of Clay's removal on the agenda by asserting that the proposal needed to go through the ethics committee—which is now in Republican hands. The chairwoman of that committee, Janice McHenry, conceivably could have decided not to hear that proposal, quashing the effort.
McQuillen said not sending the motion through the ethics committee would have “violated” Clay’s due process rights.
But the council’s lawyer, Fred Biesecker, rejected McQuillen's argument, saying that “I was here” in 2013 when McQuillen supported a similar move. “There was no similar objection made at that time,” Biesecker said.
The meeting was attended by several people who came to protest Clay. A few held signs say they had “no confidence” in Clay’s leadership.