In the early days of North America, the local tavern was a central establishment for socializing and drinking. Often, it was used for government events, town hall meetings and, at times, even the jail and post office. Fast forward to 2010. Thursdays at 5 p.m. finds our weekly gathering – a diverse group of friends in after-work mode – shooting the breeze and downing some drinks at the Back Door. I dubbed us “the unstable table,” as we are typically in motion, lively and unpredictable.
We’ve watched as the election year has unfolded on the overhead TVs – erratic images of talking heads, stats and promises lighting the darkened bar with a blue glow. At one point, feeling disconnected from the various candidates, it occurred to me – wouldn’t it be nice to get them off the screen and down to the bar? And so, I asked.
In April, a hungry Tyler Allen arrived after working the Pegasus Parade. Over the summer, Shannon White and Stephanie Burke arranged sitters for their children so they could make it down in time for stumping. By September, Greg Fischer, Jackie Green and Hal Heiner had all spent quality, face-to-face time engaging folks at and around our table.
With the election upon us, we posed a few questions to the final three mayoral candidates and with their responses created this article. Of note is the fact that the candidates were as accessible as they were busy – a good quality in leadership, a necessary quality in a mayor.
The smile and handshake was expected – watching them mellow out, drop their shoulders and lean in to talk with us, priceless.
The BAR EXAM candidate responses are in alphabetical order.
1. What are you doing to increase livability downtown? If elected, how would you handle the Iron Quarter situation?
FISCHER: The key to unlocking downtown’s potential is safe, affordable housing. I believe the number of affordable units downtown will increase when the economy improves and the arena comes online. However, I will create incentives for developers of newly constructed affordable housing (based on a New York City program from the 1970s) that will amplify organic growth. The program has the potential to result in thousands of new affordable downtown units over the course of my term as Mayor. Then, retail follows rooftops. I am confident that by 2015, downtown residents will be able to buy groceries, catch a movie – even shop in a department store – right in their own neighborhood.
I believe the redevelopment of the Iron Quarter block is important to keep the momentum of downtown revitalization going. I will ensure the buildings are structurally safe, the facades are preserved, and the project moves forward. As mayor, I will be more proactive in the city’s approach to landmark designation to give property owners and developers more certainty. With local landmarking agreements, we can both preserve the best of our architectural heritage and pave the way for the landmarks of the future.
GREEN: I own and manage a bicycle shop on Market near First Street, enabling citizens to cycle with the knowledge that support is nearby. I also keep bicycle couriers on the streets of downtown Louisville five days a week, training drivers to the presence of cyclists.
I rehabbed four 100-plus-year-old buildings on Market and own two other 100-plus-year-old buildings. I love the historicity of those buildings and know the challenges they and the Iron Quarter buildings represent. I will work for retaining the Iron Quarters’ south facades, the north facades and as much of the interiors as is financially possible.
HEINER: A vibrant and energetic downtown has the dual benefit of promoting tourism and attracting conventions, both fueling the growth of jobs in an important sector of Louisville’s economy and providing amenities and services for those people that choose to live in our urban center. Developing our own “Magnificent Mile” will grow and attract retail and food services that will serve these dual purposes. Supporting our arts community will give downtown residents reasons to get out and about. Making Louisville one of the alternative energy research centers of the nation will bring creative and educated professionals to Louisville.
Regarding the Iron Quarter, we have a tremendous opportunity to rehabilitate the block and add to the energy that is growing around the new downtown arena. While those buildings must be safe and secure, we should strive to preserve the unique historical architecture of the facades and one of the most photographed and recognized blocks in Louisville.
2. Deteriorating neighborhoods, abandoned houses and crumbling sidewalks are everywhere in our fair Metro. What will your focus be on helping to restore some sense of pride and the feeling that the city cares about them?
FISCHER: Alongside job creation and putting Louisville back to work, investing in our neighborhoods will be my top priority as mayor. The financial and mortgage crisis has left neighborhoods across Jefferson County reeling. In order to move forward, we must stop going backward. I will assign a Foreclosure Prevention Coordinator to build partnerships with banks, the judicial system, Jefferson County Attorney, and community organizations to prevent foreclosure and stabilize those neighborhoods most deeply affected. Then, I will lead an effort to inventory and clean up vacant and abandoned properties neighborhood by neighborhood, each with a specifically tailored plan. To renovate and construct new homes, I will bring private builders, not-for-profit developers, and Metro Government together in new ways. That means working with state and federal representatives, as well, to pursue every source of funding available to invest in our neighborhoods. I will partner with neighborhood associations and homeowner groups to modernize block watch programs, develop neighborhood art projects, and support collaboration among and between neighbors to keep Louisville safe, clean, and beautiful. I will be a mayor for all parts of the city, from the Highlands to Valley Station, to Prospect, to Shawnee.
GREEN: The first step is to keep cars and trucks from parking on our curbs and sidewalks.
Another step is to stop the unsustainable development of the east of our county. That development takes private investment, public infrastructure and metro services away from all existing neighborhoods. Unsustainable development also destroy farms, fields and forests (our local food economy).
The next step is to focus development efforts and financial incentives around schools to improve the neighborhoods. This helps the schools, the neighborhoods and the students. We need also to let students attend their neighborhood schools. Put JCPS transportation dollars into hiring teachers to improve the student/teacher ration in low performing schools. Surround each school with a three-radial block absolute, unambiguous pedestrian right of way. Encourage parents to walk their children to school. Require parents who insist on driving to school to drop their children off at the three block perimeter, joining other students and parents on the sidewalk. This keeps neighborhoods from becoming drive-through neighborhoods, improves safety with less and slower traffic, puts more eyes and feet on the sidewalk. Creating a neighborhood patrolled by citizens gives the neighborhood greater investment in the school and the school in the neighborhood.
HEINER: Tackling blight and abandoned homes is a central piece of my “Safe and Secure Neighborhoods” platform. I’ve put forward very specific ideas on how to tackle the problem. I want to establish a “Top 25 List” of Louisville’s most problematic properties to shine a light on these kinds of issues. We must also create the right incentives for people and developers to invest in rehabilitating dilapidated structures. I’ve proposed creating a Neighborhood Empowerment Zone program, modeled after a successful Program in Ft. Worth, TX. Since its inception five years ago, that program has lead to interest in rehabbing over 5,000 properties.
Additionally, we must dedicate resources to ensuring that blight is not getting a foothold in an area. I will get the lights on at previously boarded up industrial buildings by creating low cost incubator space for start-up businesses. I will also establish a “Graffiti Busters” unit in Public Works to clean up areas that are on the verge of decay.
Finally, recognizing that it is impossible to keep every property from falling into disrepair, I propose to capitalize a public/private property acquisition fund to purchase run down properties with the sole purpose of getting them back into the hands of responsible property owners that will properly care for them.
3. If elected, how would you facilitate better communication, understanding and problem-solving with the gay and lesbian community?
FISCHER: My goal is for a Fischer Administration to achieve an unprecedented level of diversity and inclusiveness. That means having people in leadership positions of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities and orientations. I support the Fairness Ordinance 100 percent. Hal Heiner voted against the Fairness Ordinance and I strongly disagree with him for doing so. The way to facilitate better communication, understanding and problem-solving is to give everyone an equal seat at the table and fair chance to participate in community life.
GREEN: By the same measures extended to all other special interest groups – by asking their input and participation in local government.
HEINER: As mayor, I will be available for direct discussion in the community with fully-expanded access. In addition, I will ensure Metro government serves as an exceptional example of an organization reflecting the diverse community it serves. A core value of my administration will be the importance and immeasurably high value of every member of our city.
4. When every big event is focused on Fourth Street Live, what are your ideas to Keep Louisville Weird with local establishments?
FISCHER: On balance, Fourth Street Live has been a tremendous asset for our downtown, particularly as a boon to tourism and our convention business. However, I am disappointed that more local independent businesses haven’t benefited from the incentives and tax breaks that Cordish and its tenants have benefited from. At the same time, there are underserved areas wanting for restaurants and retail all over town. As mayor, I will create “Bull’s Eyes,” targeted incentive zones to bring new restaurants and retail to historical commercial centers. The city will offer no-interest and forgivable loans to business and property owners to encourage investments. Local businesses, rather than out-of-town companies, will get first priority for the loans. There is no reason Dixie and Preston highways can’t support some of the same businesses that make Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenue so attractive. It is time to Keep Louisville Weird outside the Watterson Expressway, too.
GREEN: “Every” big event is not focused on Fourth Street Live. We need to keep and encourage events such as the Market Street trolley hop, Frankfort Avenue’s trolley hop, Americana’s World Festival and the innumerable neighborhood events all over the county. Local establishments are the heart of these events.
HEINER: The Keep Louisville Weird campaign is a great thing for our city. Local retailers are one of the most identifiable characteristics of an area that is committed to distinguishing itself from “AnyWhere, USA.” Fourth Street Live may be just the right thing for the out-of-town visitors that come for convention and event business, but when Louisvillians welcome friends and family to our city, we take them to Bardstown Road, Frankfort Avenue, St. Matthews, Old Louisville, Jeffersontown, Valley Station and all the other local areas that give Louisville its uniqueness. As mayor, I want to help promote the local retailer momentum we have in Louisville. I’d also like to see it integrated into the larger developments that I’ve proposed. We need to “Finish Fourth Street” from the Brown Hotel to the Belvedere, but do it in a way so that local retailers can get some discounted lease rates in those developments. Let’s not only have our locals keeping Louisville weird. Let’s also introduce our distinctiveness to the hundreds of thousands that pass through town – leaving a portion of their spending money in our local retailers’ shops after they’ve gone home.
5. What’s the most breathtakingly beautiful yet overlooked or under-appreciated landscape in the Metro? Which building is our best-kept blessing?
FISCHER: We are incredibly blessed in Louisville to live amongst a variety of breathtaking landscapes; my favorite, though, has to be the overlook at the top of Iroquois Park.
Speaking of breathtaking, my favorite building in town has to be the Palace Theater – I am still upset that I missed Neil Young last spring!
GREEN: My dream is a Beargrass Creek free of sewage and litter, allowing us to turn the concrete channelized portion of Beargrass Creek (from Eastern Parkway north to Home of the Innocents) into a shaded, linear, open air art gallery. Some of the art (graffiti) contributed by our citizens (vandals) is beautiful. We make the mistake of painting over it periodically, not in an effort to “change the exhibit,” but to obliterate the graffiti (art). We are wasting the space and the talent.
Which building is our best-kept blessing? The shotgun house.
HEINER: Under-appreciated landscape in the Metro? The steep hills of Jefferson Memorial Forest in the fall. We have the largest urban forest in the country and few have top of mind awareness of this tremendous asset.
Best-kept blessing? The Portland Marine Hospital is the last remaining marine hospital in the country and was built in the mid-19th century. The exterior has been restored, but we are waiting on a $6 million grant to renovate the historic interior into medical space for the University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics.
6. You won the election! Now you face the challenge of redirecting the energy and ideas of your opponents to maximize the public benefit. What is your strategy for setting their ideas into action as Mayor?
FISCHER: The real challenge is to search for the best ideas in the world and to apply them in a way that is uniquely Louisville – first, imitate; then, innovate. An election is a competition of ideas, to some degree, but the competition that really matters is the one between Louisville and Chicago – or Shanghai, or Tokyo – for the top jobs and talent of the 21st Century. Some of the best ideas in the world are right here in Louisville, and that’s why I’ve engaged nearly 400 leading thinkers and doers from all across this community to help me create policies for everything from arts and culture to homelessness and poverty, entrepreneurship to local food economy. My philosophy is to include as many people as possible in the process to understand problems from all the angles, consider special needs, and to come up with win-win solutions for the entire community. It is how I have run my campaign and it is how I will run Metro Government as your next mayor.
GREEN: All the great ideas generated in this race are public property. No candidate owns any specific idea. I will put all ideas on the table, invite the present administration, the other candidates and their supporters, stakeholders, and the community at large to help sort through the combined ideas to create the best amalgam of concepts and team players to position Louisville to be able to respond to the coming challenges.
HEINER: Growing and attracting jobs will be the highest priority of the next mayor. Given my experience in getting investment and promoting job growth in Louisville, I’ll walk into office on Day 1 ready to fulfill my commitment to be the Chief Economic Development Officer for our city. Immediately after taking office, I will bring together a cross section of interested parties to update our jobs-attraction strategy. It has been 14 years since the last strategy was put into place and it is long past due for us to dedicate our energy and ideas toward putting together a vision of how to grow the economy and get people back to work in Louisville. I will also work to bring a broader representation to the 600 boards and commissions positions as terms expire so we may better reflect the entire community.