Major changes on the council

Recorder President Shannon Williams shares her thoughts about the impact of Stephen Clay's election as president of the Indianapolis City-County Council.

Monday evening, Stephen Clay got what he has wanted for years … and he did it by selling his soul and aligning with City-County Council Republicans to oust former president and fellow Democrat Maggie Lewis.

Clay was so desperate in his approach to the presidency that his deal with Republicans will reduce the strength of the Democratic majority, which was elected with a mandate of the people. This is highly likely to negatively impact key initiatives and could hurt Indianapolis’ most vulnerable and underserved communities, including the very east-side district that elected Clay.

I am rarely surprised at anything relative to politics these days, but the depths that Clay went to assume the top seat in the Council is shameful and his tactics have been sexist, immoral and just outright distasteful.

There are two sides to Clay: There is Pastor Clay who preaches the word of God before his congregation on the east side of Indianapolis, and there is an uglier, sneaky side of Clay who doesn’t like to admit wrongdoings, who uses disparaging language and who is incredibly argumentative, oftentimes for no reason.

I have experienced both sides of Clay.

Many years ago, I was a member of his congregation, but I left because I didn’t agree with some things that occurred within the church. Even though I was much younger, I am grateful I had the strength (it was hard because he was a captivating preacher) and foresight to know that I didn’t want to be associated with such an entity.

I came to know the other side of Clay about 10 years ago when he and I butted heads over aspects of the professional relationship between the Recorder and Messiah Missionary Baptist Church. Clay and I moved beyond our professional spat and maintained a respectable acquaintance with one another. However, I again experienced that dark side of Clay after the editorial I wrote two weeks ago about his plan to oppose Lewis on the Council.

Clay didn’t like my column, so he called me (and Lewis) names in conversations with others whom he probably assumed were his confidants and would keep it quiet. And rather than respond to Recorder questions regarding the claims made by Jonathan Bryant and documented in 2004 by the Indiana Department of Child Services, Clay instead chose to submit a letter to the Recorder suggesting I was one of “Maggie’s minions.” In addition, he and members of a local ministers alliance refused to allow Recorder photographers to photograph their annual Emancipation Service, an event that we have reported on and photographed nearly every year it has been in existence.

Clay apparently has a problem with strong women, which is why Lewis and I have felt his wrath as of late — she far more than me. When a strong woman doesn’t defer to Clay, when she expresses an opinion he doesn’t like or when she calls him out or puts him in his place, he pounces on her and she obtains a spot on his list of “don’t likes.”

Isn’t it interesting how Clay blames Lewis for resurfacing the Bryant allegations when, in fact, Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, who is a known Republican, had the exclusive on the story and spoke with Bryant before the Recorder or any other media outlet ever did? As a matter of fact, Shabazz has been following the Bryant story for several years. On his indianabarrister.com website, there is a post from June 24, 2011, that addresses the allegations and states that Shabazz asked Clay in person if he has “ever been the subject of a DCS investigation.” Clay didn’t respond to the question then, nor did he respond to Shabazz’s texts prior to that.

However, during Clay’s media blitz and countless conversations with people in the community these past couple of weeks, he repeatedly blamed Lewis for the story.

Never has Clay referenced Shabazz.

I suspect he hasn’t for a few reasons:

He thought blaming Lewis could benefit him politically.

He pulled from Donald Trump’s deck of cards and tried to deflect from the actual sexual misconduct story by claiming fake news and pitching a different story altogether.

Shabazz is a Republican. Clay won the Council presidency because he sold out to Republicans. The last thing he could do — especially before the big vote — was attack or criticize a member of that party.

Republican leader Michael McQuillen said, “What will happen is, Indianapolis will now see a bipartisan committee structure in which both Republicans and Democrats will chair the committees of the (Council).”

McQuillen also stated there have “never been bipartisan committees in the 10 years” he has been on the Council and he doesn’t believe committee leadership has ever been bipartisan.

What has happened is something that has never been done in the history of the Indianapolis City-County Council and for good reason: It hurts the agenda of the party that is in control, the party that has a majority and mandate from the people.

Clay hasn’t directly admitted that, only saying, “We’re offering them the opportunity to discuss what a reorganized Council would look like.”

Shame on Clay for selling out and compromising the progress and people of his district. He is now in bed with Republicans and will be heavily influenced by them.

Now that Clay has the position he has craved, we will see how he uses it. Time will tell whether he will use his presidency to heal a divided council, listen to all members of the Democratic caucus and make changes that will move this city forward. Unless Clay leads in a productive and unifying manner, his criticism of Lewis’ leadership will be hypocritical.

My column a couple of weeks ago was far more docile than this one, yet Clay resorted to calling me names, refused to answer Recorder questions and prevented my staff from photographing an event he was part of. I can only imagine how he will respond to my remarks this week.

After Monday’s vote, some folks asked me if I was afraid that Clay would try to further target me or the Recorder with his newfound power. My responses were clear and direct: I am not afraid of or intimidated by Clay. I never have been, and the Recorder and I will continue to do our jobs as journalists and as community watchdogs. That means we will report on the City-County Council as we have in the past (we have information on Clay’s win in this week’s issue and a picture of him). We will not compromise our journalistic integrity nor the legacy of this historic newspaper.

If Clay or any of his associates try to treat me, any of my staff or the Recorder unfairly or attempt to sabotage us in any way, I have no qualms about addressing him directly and informing the community of any iniquitous efforts on the part of him or others.

Since Clay has now received the gavel he has wanted for so long, my suggestion to him would be to fill the stilettoes Lewis left as president and behave with a modicum of respect, fairness and decorum.

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