LEO Weekly recently sat down with the candidate, talking about the Metro Council, billion-dollar bridges, The Cordish Cos., Louisville’s restlessness and his mayoral philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from that interview:
LEO: What are your thoughts on the $950,000 The Cordish Cos. used to renovate the Sports & Social Club at Fourth Street Live? There are a lot of questions surrounding that use of tax dollars.
GF: I need to know more about the details, but a core value of my administration would be transparency. We’re spending your money and my money through taxpayer dollars. In my view the business of the people should be transparent.
LEO: What is your vision for areas of Louisville other than downtown?
GF: If the urban core is seen as the heart of the county, then one of my goals would be to develop all of Jefferson County to make it feel like the core of the region. And that people outside of downtown and I-264 don’t see it as a different world. You go to different parts of Louisville in the south and west and talk like it is hours away when it’s an eight to 12 minute drive. In our minds we’re too far apart. There’s no six degrees of separation in this town. It’s important to me that the people in the South End of Louisville feel like they have the amenities in their neighborhood like restaurants, coffee shops and parks…
LEO: What’s your position on the Ohio River Bridges Project?
GF: I don’t know if the community recognizes the resolution passing was a big day. I’m coming into this at the 23rd hour. One of the things I want to do as mayor is have a strong and respectful relationship with the Metro Council. The Metro Council has spoken and they are the closest we have to the citizens in Metro government. The next step is for citizens to have a chance to voice their opinions to their state legislative officials because it’s going to go to this authority and then be approved by the General Assembly, so there are these massive checks and balances in place here. Citizens will have the opportunity to say once they see the design of the tolling authority, “We like it or we don’t like it.”
LEO: Should we expect tolling to be a part of the project? Do you support tolling as one of the ways to pay for it?
GF: We have to wait and see what this authority comes up with. I’m not going to jump in here at the last minute and insert myself in a process that’s been going on for 20 years. What I do think should happen is citizens should continue to voice their concerns.
LEO: Does that mean you support public hearings?
GF: Whatever aspect the citizenry and/or their elected officials decide to take input. As mayor I’m not going to be bridge-obsessed. I think whatever happens we need to make some decisions and move on down the road. What I want to focus on is transportation, and the bridges are one part. There are multiple commercial corridors in Louisville that need assistance such as Dixie Highway [and] Bardstown Road, which are a mess during rush hour…
LEO: In your opinion, what is the leading role of Louisville’s mayor – cheerleader, advocate, chief policymaker?
GF: The first question right off is why does somebody want to be mayor? For me it has to come from a feeling of service and capability and experience. That would be my goal — to help every citizen in Louisville improve their quality of life. How do you go about doing that? One would be [establishing] what is the tone and culture you set for the city. What are your values? I would like to see a city that’s more open, transparent, inclusive and empowering. One that celebrates its success, but also a city that has no problem talking about its weakness so that we deal in reality. Let’s find out what the best solution in the world is for [our problems] and let’s go about getting it solved.
LEO: What did you learn from your U.S. Senate campaign?
GF: It’s a very intimate experience – campaigning. It’s not like going to a cocktail party where people are talking on a real superficial level. People come up and bear their souls, their hopes and their problems to you. My view on government is when it’s applied properly it’s a great leverage point for helping as many people as possible. Even though I lost, it was a great experience. It’s the only thing I ever lost where people talked to me like I won. I guess it’s because I really exceeded expectations. So people say, “Gosh if I knew you were going to do so well I would have helped you more. If you run again let me know.”
LEO: How do you think that’ll help you in the mayor’s race?
GF: For one thing, it’s like I started off with the marathon running a statewide race. Physically it’s grueling because of the size of the state. Running for mayor, I can be anywhere in town and be home in 20 minutes. From a physical standpoint I like that a lot. The outpouring since the announcement has been very gratifying to me for the people who are going to be involved in the race. It’s kind of like family running with me.
LEO: Well what’s your big message? What’s your campaign going to look like, have you picked a staff, courted donors, etc.?
GF: The theme of my campaign is going to be: It’s about us, the entire community. I’ve been out and about for the past six months talking to people about this race. There’s a tremendous restlessness and energy in the city for people to move and push forward and flex their citizenship muscles.
LEO: When you have the same people in office for so long, do you think people want to get out and try their own ideas?
GF: Probably so. People ask do I want to criticize Jerry Abramson. I say absolutely not. The guy has given over a quarter-century of his life to public service. We should be thankful for that and if you’re critical of it, then you ought to run for office. People are so quick to criticize everybody, but when it comes time to put their name on the line they back off. I appreciated when people serve. When someone has done as much as Jerry Abramson has we should say thank you, but then we can also look to the future. It’s a natural cycle here now. We’re going to have a new mayor. We’re going to be doing things differently and I’d like to be involved.
LEO: You haven’t held public office before though. Do you think that’ll hurt your chances? What about the question of experience?
GF: I think it’ll help my chances. Of all the people that are being talked about I have by far the most executive experience in creating jobs. I started a company in 1980 with my brother and father [where] we created over 300 jobs … and I want to see if we can do that with the city. I want all of our citizens to be able to say, “Whatever it is I want to do with my life, the city is an agent for doing that.” We need to spend their money efficiently, make sure there are opportunities available for their kids and help optimize their potential as a human being. Can we have that culture as a city?
To read more from this interview, check out Jerry’s kids, LEO’s weekly column about local government.