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Mayoral Candidates Forum

[by Phyllis Shaikun]

Often when three candidates running for office get together to address an audience, the occasion is less than cordial. That was not the case at the Jewish Community Center on Wednesday evening, September 15, when the three major candidates for Louisville Metro Mayor, Democrat Greg Fischer, Republican Hal Heiner and Independent Jackie Green, shared the stage at the Jewish Community Center. The event was hosted by the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Community Relations Council and the National Council of Jewish Women, Louisville Section.

Despite some finger-pointing at the end of the formal remarks, decorum was maintained throughout the program. The three were actually remarkably similar in their responses.

In opening remarks, they all consider the lack of jobs as the number one issue facing our community. As a businessman, Fischer says he created many jobs and encourages people to be flexible and creative – to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and involve everyone in the effort – teamwork is the key to attracting job growth. He also espouses the idea of building a city of neighborhoods with “spirit and soul” where interfaith culture is embraced.

Heiner, a self-made man who rose from humble beginnings, started a company in 1997 that has grown to provide thousands of jobs. He feels the experience he gained from 20 years in the business world and eight years serving on the City Council – where he did everything from surveying farms to designing bridges – makes him the best candidate to do the job that needs to be done.

Green began on a positive note stating the community has three good candidates from which to choose. He is confident his business acumen and love of the city will help him lead Louisville to “Ideal City” status. The Ideal City concept grew out of a University of Louisville focus group Green joined last year to explore the possibilities. He volunteered to carry their ideas forward by seeking the community’s highest office.

The program was conducted in a question and answer format moderated by attorney and JCL Board Member, Sheila Berman. Relevant responses to various questions are grouped below.

Q. Solution to traffic problems?

A. (Green) Believes we need world-class public transit and enhanced transport for seniors rather than new highways. His question: how do we pay for it? Conclusion: buy and use more buses and then eventually introduce a light rail system.

(Fischer)  While major throughways are working pretty well, TARC wants buses coming down Bardstown Road and Preston Highway every 15 minutes. He supported the Harrods Creek Bridge and supports the current two-bridge project – if we can afford it. The issue has been debated for more than 41 years, but we still might need to start over. Conclusion: low tolls/scale back if needed.

(Heiner) Originally the bridges were to be federally funded, but now there’s a new situation. Conclusion: divide the project into two pieces with the East End beginning construction first. The bridge will run one-half billion dollars and it will cost $1.5 billion to rebuild spaghetti junction. We have to relook at downtown and see what is affordable.

Q. How do we bring jobs to the area?

A. (Heiner) Unemployment is at 9.5 percent now. We have so much going for us, so why are we losing jobs to Indianapolis or Oklahoma City? Conclusion: we need a leader to close the deal, streamline getting new businesses here and not leave it to the Chamber of Commerce.

(Fischer) You need a can-do attitude. The new business incubator he and others started here in 2000 produced businesses that now provide jobs. Conclusion: ensure good communication and customer-friendly attitude toward new companies from the start. We have a great health care industry here so attract more; GE is getting into “green” appliances; Ford is refining its manufacturing system. He sees the glass as half-full with room to grow.

(Green) We have heard good ideas, but how do we get moving on them. Conclusion: Our economy needs to grow to attract the kinds of companies we need. Consider investing in new economy like solar panels and turn that savings into the community.

Q. Dr. Adewale Troutman, the director of Louisville’s Department of Public Health and Wellness who is leaving that position, was instrumental in achieving a smoking ban and in encouraging access to fresh fruits and produce in deprived areas. Your reaction?

A. (Green) Our population’s health is not good and businesses lose on rising health care costs. Conclusion: we need to get people walking and should form pedestrian cocoon areas three blocks around schools to encourage people to walk their children to school. We need to invest in that infrastructure.

A. (Heiner) The incidence of health issues is no higher here than elsewhere, but the result is worse. Conclusion: he wants to be active in Frankfort to get preventive health care programs working; make fresh foods available and encourage community gardens. Thirty gardens are functioning in town now in collaboration with the University of Kentucky’s Extension Office.

A. (Fischer) As mayor, you keep the things that work like the Mayor’s Hike and Bike programs. Conclusion: we need nurses in every school (now only 16 schools currently have nurses). This area is known for its agricultural abilities so we need to explore food desert issues, but our ability to get good foods to our citizens is dependent on securing good jobs in the local economy.

Q. Challenges for the Metro Police Department.

A. (Fischer) People need to do community policing. Conclusion: he would like to see Chief of Police White stay in his job and in the community because he feels there are enough problems here with jobs and such that we should not have to worry about finding another police chief as well.

. (Heiner) Violent crime is up nine percent in Louisville over the past nine years. Morale in the police department is very low – less than 20 percent believe in the current leadership. We are 76 officers short since the merger and we need to find a way back. Conclusion: he feels it is improper to choose any staff before the election because new people have to be committed to the new administration.

A. (Green) Conclusion: he also wants Chief White to stay on in his current position. He also would ask all new hires to submit a letter of resignation to be kept on hand if the mayor ever considers letting them go.

Q. Thoughts on the school assignment plan.

A. (Green) He is on record opposing the plan since he feels there’s a need to better define the objective. Conclusion: it has been the same battle for 35 years and hasn’t changed. We need to take diversity off of our children since affordable housing availability would solve the problem without busing.

A. (Heiner) Conclusion:  he agrees we need to improve the current situation and cited Atkinson Elementary school, once the worst school in Kentucky, which turned itself around by giving hope to students and going to the private sector to help pay the cost.

A. (Fischer) We must compare ourselves to the best in the world. We are making progress, but it is slow. Conclusion: parents need to learn how to talk to schools so we can improve expectations, structure and discipline. We also need quality after school programs. It is important to have diversity as part of our school system.

Closing remarks:
(Green) Conclusion: he feels we can best grow in the future by not electing a specific CEO, but rather electing a leader to help us determine the road to travel and then standing aside and letting the folks we hired as experts do their thing. We need to be looking at great efficiencies.

(Fischer) Conclusion: you need to ask what kind of community you want. We make progress by growing. The mayor leads and manages that path to help us achieve our potential. His experience with team-building and coalition-making is what we need in a mayor – optimistic vision and interfaith leadership.

(Heiner) He has served on the city council for eight years and has spoken at many forums. Details matter. Conclusion: we need vision along with good education, transportation and health care. This is a pivotal time, and he knows we can “get there” with good leadership.
Another candidates forum, this time featuring Third District Congressional Candidates Todd Lally and John Yarmuth will take place on Sunday, October 24, 3 p.m. at Congregation Adath Jeshurun.

Matt Goldberg is director of the JCL’s Community Relations Council and can be reached at 451-8840 or by emailing mgoldberg@jewishlouisville.org.

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