As the mayoral campaign heats up, it should be noted that Louisville hasn’t had a Republican mayor in four decades, and since merger the Democrats have had solid control of both branches. Those facts, observers say, make any GOP candidate a long shot, but don’t tell Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, who has entered the race with confidence.
“This is about service, and after seeing missed opportunity after missed opportunity, the only way to have the most significant impact is from the Mayor’s Office,” he says. “After serving for these seven years I just decided if I’m going to have an impact on the community that I love, the maximum impact is from the Mayor’s Office. I just have to run.”
The East End Republican recently sat down with LEO Weekly to talk about job growth, mayoral power and Louisville’s future. A portion of that conversation ran in Jerry’s kids; here’s the full interview
LEO: What are your thoughts about Councilman Brent Ackerson’s resolution encouraging state lawmakers to cut the Metro mayor’s term limit from three to two?
Hal Heiner: Personally, I believe an eight-year term is a better term. It encourages other talent in Louisville to consider leadership. I think it fosters a call for a public servant in the position of mayor rather than a career politician. It’s a positive move, but before we pass this resolution we need to hear from the public. The public voted merger in; they understood the form of government when they voted, so a public hearing should be a part of that process before we move forward.
LEO: Should that be one public hearing or several?
HH: I’ll reserve judgment on that (and) wait to see how best to get the public involved. But there needs to be a period of time that it’s out and available for comment in the community.
LEO: What are some transparency initiatives you would implement as mayor to open up Metro government?
HH: The first step after being elected mayor would be to call for a full state audit of every department of Metro government so that we have a fresh start … and to release (the results) to the public so we know the status of every department in this government. After that fresh start, the second part would involve the method of managing this community. I think you’d see a big difference. For instance, we would also call in that first year for a study on the delivery of services, a comprehensive study on how we may more efficiently deliver them. The current administration prepared the study (but) never released it. In my administration we would prepare the study and release it.
LEO: During the city’s agreement with The Cordish Cos., did the Metro Council perform its due diligence as the legislative body, or simply rubber stamp the mayor’s deal?
HH: I was quite involved in trying to bring openness to the Cordish contract. The council first became involved months after the mayor had signed the contract that didn’t provide openness or guarantees of performance. I was one of the leaders in trying to get the contract renegotiated so it provided those two items…The council was told of a $435 million project, but the guarantees only provided for a $12 million project. What was presented, I was in full support of. My concern was that the contract didn’t provide openness or guarantees.
LEO: Suburban politicians have been criticized for being in constant opposition to urban growth. Would you continue to promote downtown development the way it is now?
HH: Without a strong downtown we don’t have an identifiable center in Louisville and we will not be classified as a great city. So continued investment in downtown is important. Our focus of investment in the past has essentially been all our eggs in one basket, (and) in this case one developer. Look at other great cities that have grown more organically because they have local businesses they have supported. Not necessarily $36 million a shot, but help them achieve success in the core of the city and build on those local companies. My administration, we would have greater focus on growing local businesses rather than investing with just one developer.
LEO: Why did you enter the race knowing you’d have to relinquish your seat on the council?
HH: I’ve been on the council for seven years and during that period I’ve been in leadership on the council… I’ve seen in that time period the potential for an improved Louisville, but that ability lies mainly in the Mayor’s Office. After a lot of consideration and concern for the city I love, I just decided I had to enter the race.
LEO: In a city that leans heavily Democratic, what does the Republican candidate for mayor need to offer as an alternative?
HH: Louisville has a long history of supporting the candidates that they feel will best move the city forward. If you look at the last county judges race, Rebecca Jackson, who is a Republican, was elected countywide. Look at our county clerk’s office. So the voters in Louisville have shown a history — which I feel is admirable — of viewing the candidates, understanding the issues and selecting the person.
LEO: Do you anticipate a contentious primary campaign?
HH: I do not expect a contentious primary. My desire for an open and transparent government is shared by Chris Thieneman. After that the primary voters will decide who they best feel will lead Louisville on the remainder of the vision that Chris and I would have for the city.
LEO: What’s the main thing that distinguishes you two?
HH: The seven years I’ve served on the council in leadership I think is beneficial to a quick start in the executive branch … having chaired a number of committees, that background will be especially beneficial.
LEO: Do you believe the GOP has made the necessary inroads with independent and urban voters?
HH: I don’t see this race being about parties. I see it being about individuals (and) issues … I feel like there are a number of neighborhoods where the basic quality of life level has been allowed to deteriorate. I’m talking about neighborhoods where every third house is boarded up. I’m talking about neighborhoods where every eighth lot is vacant and the grass is nearly waist high, (and) the areas where retail centers have been boarded up for years. And if we don’t help on those issues … an entire neighborhood can implode. We need to find a way, partnering with corporations in Louisville and nonprofit agencies we have in this community, to go back into neighborhoods that are in trouble. Instead of focusing on the mega-project, (we need to ask), “how do we build this neighborhood back?” That would be a focus of my administration.
LEO: You were criticized for touting job creation while your private company, Capstone, profited from a big project that took jobs from Louisville across the bridge to Southern Indiana. How do you respond to that?
HH: My first priority in running for this office is to win new jobs for Louisville. The last 20 years of my career has been spent winning jobs for Louisville and over 4,000 jobs for south Jefferson County… So I am proud that I helped keep those jobs here. The competition for jobs is intense across the country…
LEO: How does Louisville become a better hub for attracting, retaining and creating jobs?
HH: In order for Louisville to be a prosperous city we need to win new jobs. But by any economic measure we have not kept up with our competitor cities … Louisville has not performed from a job attraction standpoint equal to those other communities. Over the last 20 years I’ve spent time with the consultants (representing companies) who first come to Louisville and try to understand Louisville … they look often to government. How will this government make our life more difficult? First, we have to make sure we don’t pass laws as we have in the past that businesses see as adding to their red tape for getting permits approved, adding to the desire of government to get in the middle of their business, and also telling them how to spend or not spend their funds in the community.
LEO: Does Metro government need more relaxed labor standards to attract big business?
HH: Being one of the few communities in the country with a law that says if we give you an incentive at a certain (funding) level … (then we mandate) the rates you have to pay (your workers). Standing out in that regard was certainly a step that makes Louisville less attractive for new jobs… In 2007, we lost 1,500 jobs that would have paid an average of nearly $55,000 per job. We lost an $80 million payroll when by some accounts companies had picked Louisville first.
LEO: Mayor Jerry Abramson vetoed the original labor standards ordinance, but changes were made that he eventually signed. As mayor, could we expect you to use your veto pen more often on issues of business?
HH: Government should decide how it spends its dollars and what labor standards should be involved in the money government spends. The concern I have is when we tell private business, here are the conditions under which you can spend your dollars. That’s the part that concerns me.
LEO: What will be your campaign message that distinguishes you in the field?
HH: I’m running to win new jobs for Louisville. I’ve spent the past two decades working with businesses to help bring those jobs primarily to Jefferson County and the region. I have worked tirelessly to bring openness to this government. It was part of my central platform when I ran in 2002. It was one of my top three goals. I’ve worked for that for seven years. And there’s a lot farther to go so that this government can be seen as a model for transparency in this country. It needs to be a model. That’s what encourages investment in this community. Both individuals and businesses have to trust this government. (Lastly), I was one of the early leaders bringing to light the problems the housing department was having in spending millions of dollars the federal government was making available to us in the budget process. I understand the real need. I worked a couple of years ago with Habitat for Humanity … I have a concern about the neighborhoods that are declining in value rapidly because those pressing issues are not being addressed.
LEO: What’s your vision for Louisville?
HH: I want Louisville to be a model. If there’s a list of business friendly communities, I want to see Louisville at the top. I want us to be a model for when other cities are trying to figure out what openness and transparency is they know they can come to Louisville and see the best. When it comes to addressing the questions around quality of life, we need to be a role model. There are neighborhoods throughout are community that are not being addressed and they need to be. The light needs to be shined on them. It doesn’t need to be a 100 percent government financed program, which often are not successful. But certainly government has the funds that it can leverage with non-profits and corporations to make sure we don’t’ see the kind of decline in value that is happening in many areas of the city…
We have a great reputation when it comes to friendliness. For years, companies talked about relocating people to Louisville and when it came time to move them somewhere else they’d rather stay here. It’s a great place to live, a great place to raise a family…but if we don’t have the job opportunities here (our future) leaves. Two of my children moved out of town for job opportunities. I’d like to see the city be a community that has plenty of opportunity for them, their friends and their generation and that the ladder exists to move up to make a better life…that’s how prosperity comes to a community. I feel my background has been about focusing on bringing jobs to this community and my goal is to bring that passion for job attraction to Metro government.