Issue February 24, 2010

Jerry’s kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

If Mayor Jerry Abramson had decided to seek a third term rather than make a run for lieutenant governor, it’s doubtful the field to replace him would have been this crowded. Despite a number of controversies and growing criticism in recent years, supporters remain and would have likely returned Abramson to the Mayor’s Office.

But in some less supportive circles, however, there is a growing whisper of joy that the Mayor for Life is stepping aside. Among those looking forward to the city’s life after Jerry is Democratic mayoral candidate Shannon White, who says a new generation is eager to step up and serve.

The founder Dress for Success Louisville, who was previously a president of the Young Professionals Association, is eager to get the public more involved in local government. She recently sat down with LEO Weekly to talk about new leadership, the arts community and her mayoral philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:

LEO: During one of the mayoral forums you said you entered the race because you saw “an uninspiring group of more of the same.” What did you mean by that?

Shannon White: When I look down the long table at these Democratic and Republican candidates, I tend to see people who are already represented in Metro government. I see people who have been around a long time and people who are not necessarily bringing a fresh perspective or new ideas to the table.

LEO: Are you trying to bring in new voters?

SW: I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the race if I didn’t think I could excite a new group of people… As a working mother and small-business owner, I have really felt the economy over the past year, and I think people appreciate that. I’m a real person, I’m middle class, and I know what it takes to succeed. (The campaign) is trying to inspire people to get behind me who know that I can understand what they’re going through.

LEO: You’ve been criticized for being somewhat inexperienced. How do you respond to that?

SW: I don’t pretend to be a professional politician or that I know exactly how to run a campaign, but I do know I have the passion and love for this city that is unmatched by any other candidate. I’ve built successful organizations in the past and will do so in the future.

LEO: How would you handle the budgetary shortfalls the city has faced over the past few years?

SW: Turning the economy around and fixing the budget shortfall is so dependent on the (national) economy … and I know through my work at Dress for Success when we gave women suits, we didn’t just give them clothes, we gave them confidence to get back to work. And when people feel more confident about the economy turning around that’s when they get back to work and bring new jobs in. In a shortfall, hard decisions have to be made, and with my nonprofit experience I can really make a dollar stretch. In my personal life, we’ve had to tighten our belts as a family. And we expect the same from our government.

LEO: Which departments and services should be prioritized? Is this an excessively large city government?

SW: I would like to see things important to me prioritized, which are education, housing, public safety and economic development. Things you can put money in and expect to get money back. Economic development and housing should be our highest priority.

LEO: During the mayoral arts forum, a group held a sign that read: “Arts = Jobs.” How would you harness the arts community and its diverse workforce?

SW: Louisville needs a robust culture to stay competitive with our peer cities. If we can attract and retain exceptional talent to the city, part of why they stay is a vibrant community. You need to get people from all different parts of the arts community to be sure we have great talent in the city.

LEO: What incentives can Metro government offer to help self-employed artists in the community?

SW: I would like to see Metro government get more involved in creating a type of area like East Market. It doesn’t have to be an organic development. We can be more proactive and targeted to create other areas in town that celebrate different types of art — performing, music and visual.