New Albany City Councilman-at-large Jack Messer believes he has majority support to make him president of the nine-member legislative panel in 2008, he told The Tribune.

Asked two days after his Nov. 6 re-election whether he’d seek the office, Messer replied, “I’ve been asked to, yes,” saying he referred to some of the four new council members-elect.

“If I didn’t feel like I had the votes, I probably wouldn’t bother,” Messer said.

The council president’s primary job is to conduct meetings twice a month, recognizing members and attendees to speak in turn. Messer sought the presidency for this year, losing 5 votes to 4 to District 4 Councilman Larry Kochert. The two men have disagreed frequently at meetings, with Messer accusing Kochert of letting discussions get out of hand.

“I wanted it last year, felt like I was ready for it last year,” Messer said. “I just felt like things could be run more professional and not have all this wasted time. ... Maybe I’m in a better position to sit there and keep my mouth shut and just run a meeting than I am to interject.”

Kochert, who is retiring from the panel after 24 years, told The Tribune, “I guess he’s entitled to his opinion. I’m going to be a little more professional than he is, I’m not going to comment on it. I guess the proof will be in the pudding after he’s had his year in there.”

Presidential and vice-presidential candidates are nominated at the first meeting in January. District 6 Councilman Jeff Gahan preceded Kochert in the job during 2005 and 2006. He voted for Messer to get the 2007 presidency, but had heard nothing about Messer running again.

“I haven’t spoken to Jack about that,” Gahan said. “I’d be more than happy to talk to Jack or anyone else that’s interested in it.”

Only Councilman-at-large Kevin Zurschmiede among the incoming group said he’s thought about joining the race as well. Asked whether he’d vote for Messer as he did last time, the council’s lone Republican replied, “I don’t know, I’d have to see who else is going to run. I might even decide to run myself, although I think it might be fruitless. ... I wouldn’t have a problem with Jack being president.”

Messer acknowledged the discussion of the presidency has started earlier than in recent years, when it has began in early December. But Messer said it’s important to lay groundwork for cooperation next year.

Pat McLaughlin was elected to replace Kochert, and he said it would be important for a returning member to run the council.

“I think we’ve got a lot of experienced people on there,” McLaughlin said. “I’m sure Jack would be a good person to have in there, as well as, I’m sure, the other members.”

Incoming Councilman-at-large John Gonder said of Messer, “I’m sure he’d be fine; I don’t know who all would be running. I certainly think he’s qualified. It’s a bit premature.”

District 3 Councilman Steve Price serves on the Redevelopment Commission with Messer. He didn’t know whether he’d vote for Messer, calling Gahan “my first choice,” but Price drew attention to another duty of the president: appointing council members to other city panels.

“I think they want to take me off Redevelopment and I don’t have a problem with that, but I think it should be me or [District 1 Councilman] Dan Coffey. Our districts are directly related” to redevelopment funding, Price said.

Price’s and Coffey’s districts cover most of downtown New Albany.

Gonder and Zurschmiede both wondered whether Gahan would join the race; Gahan said simply that he had “no plans.”

Coffey, like Kochert, is a frequent Messer opponent. Told of Messer’s plans, Coffey replied, “That’s all well and good. We’ve still got three council meetings with things that are important to take care of. I wasn’t even thinking about anything like that right now.”

Members-elect Bob Caesar and Diane McCartin Benedetti did not return phone messages for comment.

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