If the term maverick hadn’t been run into the dirt, it would certainly be a useful moniker for mayoral candidate Chris Thieneman. The Louisville developer has a reputation for speaking out against public officials, as well as an independent streak that any GOP candidate will need to have even a remote chance at victory in this city.
The longtime critic of Mayor Jerry Abramson is upfront about why he’s running — to break up the establishment of local powerbrokers — and he has an unrehearsed honesty that could serve his campaign well.
Thieneman recently sat down with LEO Weekly to talk about mayoral power, the Republican Party and his vision for Louisville. Here’s an excerpt from that interview:
LEO: As mayor, how would you be more transparent?
Chris Thieneman: We need to get rid of all the buffers … we have many layers that this administration hides behind. For example, the Downtown Development Corp. is put up as a nonprofit organization that is outside the jurisdiction of the Metro Council. This administration uses that to defend their decision to send money (for Slugger Field) elsewhere. We, the people of Louisville, own that baseball stadium, but because they put it into this nonprofit … (Abramson) uses that to his advantage to keep things hidden. That’s how I would get to transparency.
LEO: You would move to dissolve those quasi-government agencies?
CT: That’s where all the secrets are held. That’s where all the money is being held. Where the money is will always lead you to the answers. At the minimum they need to be more transparent. We have to do away with those to where the buck stops with the mayor.
LEO: What do Republicans need to offer as an alternative in a merged government that has always been controlled by Democrats?
CT: This is where I stand out. The people are begging for the type of leadership I can bring. I am not beholden to any special-interest group. I know the hypocrisies of both parties. I’ve been in both parties. I’m not afraid of the establishment of either. For a Republican to get in there, we’re going to have to prove that we’re looking out for the best interest of the silent majority more so than the Democrats have in the past. It’s frustrating to see how it’s not about the concerns of the citizens, but more so about the special groups.
LEO: Do you expect a contentious campaign?
CT: I told (Councilman Hal Heiner) … if we were running together, we’d be a dynamite duo, but since we’re not and since this is a race we cannot run together, I’d say we share the same vision for the most part. We just have different styles, which doesn’t make mine any better. He tends to be more of a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy … I’m more of an eye-for-an-eye and if you go blind, too bad. Out of my experience, after you lose that first eye, you’re much more careful.
LEO: What from your political activism are you going to take into the mayoral campaign?
CT: It goes back to my father, who was a developer along with his seven brothers … learning that the game in part is paying to play. Ever since I was a kid I’ve seen you had to pay to play. What I mean by that is making sure the politicians get what they ask for. Though I was primed and positioned to be the next in line in playing that game the way the establishment wants … and I watched cash exchange hands and favors being done, I grew up toward despising it versus embracing it. My point is that after seeing all that I’ve seen, this leadership isn’t the way the community thinks. I’ve seen things that need to be said, need to be heard or flat out need to be changed. It’s why I’m running. My activism has gotten me to see all the different horrible things that have been going on behind the scenes that the regular guy can’t follow.
LEO: What message will your campaign have in order to get people energized?
CT: The people of this country are more energized now than ever about trying to take back our government. They have this sense of distrust for government, and the more they’re seeing, the more they’re starving and craving a type of leader who’ll give them the ability to flex their own muscles. I’m going to make sure I give the people (the ability) to do that so they can hold their own councilman accountable. I don’t think the people have seen the power they really hold because it has always been suppressed. Nobody wants to engage the community … I want to reach out to every corner of this community and I think I’m a broad enough candidate that if I can get through the primary, I’ll be the maverick they’re looking for. I want to be their voice, more so now than ever.