The first general election debate for mayor of Louisville may have been mostly a bore, but a stirring story behind the scenes was that event organizers barred independent candidate Jackie Green from the discussion and had Metro Police stop him from entering the building.
Last week, the Commercial Council of the Home Builders Association of Louisville hosted Democrat Greg Fischer and Republican Hal Heiner in a debate that aired on Fox-41. About 400 real estate and building industry professionals crowded into The Olmsted on Frankfort Avenue to hear the two candidates weigh in on questions (which were provided to them in advance) about job creation in the construction industry.
During the debate, Fischer and Heiner agreed on the sentiment that since city and county governments merged in 2003, Louisville goes beyond downtown and should be viewed beyond the old city limits. But apparently because Green, a bicycle advocate, believes the city should focus on reinvesting in its urban infrastructure and existing neighborhoods before expanding farther into the county, he was not invited to participate.
“We know where Mr. Green stands on development, and it is strictly focused on the urban area and redevelopment,” says Tara Brinkmoeller, a spokeswoman for Home Builders. “We know that he doesn’t believe new development should occur. And knowing that he speaks directly against what we stand for, we didn’t feel it was a forum that would’ve been appropriate.”
Still, the impassioned independent rode his bicycle to the event to hear his opponents’ remarks. According to Green, however, a Louisville Metro Police officer stopped him at the door, saying debate organizers had ordered law enforcement not to allow him on the premises.
“Then I said, ‘Let’s go talk to Charles Kavanaugh (executive director of the Home Builders Association),’ and we had a little discussion. They decided that I could stay, but still couldn’t participate,” says Green. “And I listened to two candidates who had the gall to talk about open and inclusive government, but they willingly participated in a closed and exclusive exercise.”
The day before the event, Brinkmoeller says the real estate group received a string of e-mails from Green’s campaign, which called for his supporters to come out to the event.
“We were just trying to be proactive and prepared, not really knowing or anticipating what could have taken place,” she says, adding that the group later welcomed Green inside to network with attendees. “If there was going to be any additional large crowd situations other than what we were planning for, then we were just trying to make sure crowd control was not going to be a concern. We weren’t expecting any violence or anything like that.”
Because The Olmsted is private property, only paid attendees, the invited candidates and media were allowed in the event, Brinkmoeller says.
Though Green’s candidacy is likely a long shot, the disregard shown toward his alternative viewpoint at the kick-off debate seems unwarranted at best.
After a series of amiable hearings, Metro Council approved the operating and capital budgets for the next fiscal year with few public disagreements over city spending. The high mark was that the council increased funding for arts programs and social service agencies by nearly $1 million after they were initially slashed under the original budget proposed by Mayor Jerry Abramson.
The vote concluded with a round of bipartisan pats on the back, with the exception of one city lawmaker who refuses to budge on the matter.
For the eighth year in a row, Councilman Doug Hawkins, R-25, voted against the city’s fiscal plan and was the sole council member to oppose it.
“The long and short of it is I simply don’t trust the administration. And 99 percent of (the budget) is what Abramson put up and sent over,” he says. “I appreciate the work that my colleagues did on finding money for external agencies. They worked very hard at that, but it’s a very small part of the budget.”
The one-man caucus says Abramson has valued sweetheart deals over the city’s priorities, adding the administration has closed swimming pools and parks, and that there still are unpaved streets and sidewalks in his district.
Even though his colleagues amended the budget heavily, Hawkins wasn’t pleased with the final product. And with a council race that local political observers are watching closely, Hawkins’ opponent, Democrat David Yates, is ready to pounce on the south Louisville Republican’s perceived fiscal stubbornness.
“The constituents vote you in so that you can be a part of the budget process and bring things back to the district. Councilman Hawkins’ failure to be a part of that process has put the 25th District at a disadvantage,” says Yates. “When you’re an elected official you work for the district by rolling up your sleeves and finding a solution. I think Hawkins’ stance is political in nature and that we’ve had enough political games.”
In response, Hawkins charges that Yates will be a rubber stamp for the administration and that voters have wanted him to stand up to the mayor’s budgets over the years.
Next year, the council will likely play a larger role in the budget process regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat takes hold of the Mayor’s Office.
However, don’t expect Hawkins — if he’s re-elected — to give up the anti-Abramson stump speech just because the “Mayor for Life” is running for lieutenant governor in 2011.
“Everybody thinks Jerry Abramson is leaving office and is celebrating, saying hooray, but that’s not the case. Abramson is just going to try to control this city from a higher perch,” says Hawkins. “And if you get Greg Fischer in the Mayor’s Office, it’s just going to be an extension of Abramson because Fischer’s going to be Abramson’s puppet, and nothing’s going to change.”