Can Greg Fischer Really Deliver For Louisville As ‘America’s Mayor’?

When I first met Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer after his primary win in 2010, I offered help. I visited his campaign office on Lexington Road and met with his campaign manager, Brandon Coan.

Coan and I reminisced about the time we’d spent at the University of Michigan. I shared with him my brief stint in the Economic Development Department and my vision for the work to focus on neighborhood-level community and economic development.

I thought Fischer would be better suited for this job, and I wanted him to win. I specifically told Coan — and later Fischer — that I wanted the Democratic mayoral candidate to be more appealing and to show more personality.

I was afraid that Hal Heiner, a formidable candidate, would beat Fischer if he didn’t step up his game. Coan agreed. Fischer started surrounding himself with plenty of Black people and telling each of us about meeting Bob Marley while in college. 

It worked. He won the election.

I was content. At that point, I’d spent most of my time in Louisville learning the city’s rich history and legacy of Black excellence from my Quinn Chapel AME Church family and Pan-African Studies professors at UofL.

I’d watched and experienced the city-county merger and the resurgence of the urban core. I wanted to know how it would affect my neighborhood of Shelby Park and other neighborhoods west and adjacent to the central business district.

I’d organized farmers markets in the Portland and Smoketown neighborhoods and earned a master’s degree in urban planning, where I examined the role of local governments in supporting local food system development. Fischer ran on strengthening our local food system and expanding access to food.

I was ready to see what would come of the newly created Louisville Food Policy Advisory Council and the Farm-to-Table program — initiatives birthed under the Abramson administration that Fischer would implement. These were endeavors I’d helped create.

A year into Fischer’s first term, the Food Policy Advisory Council was disbanded. In this year’s budget, the Farm-to-Table program was eliminated, and 10 years after its inception, residents in Smoketown, Shelby Park, Old Louisville and Russell don’t have a grocery store — a basic neighborhood amenity.

In his interview with The Courier Journal’s Darcy Costello, Fischer painted a picture of a dreamy 2020, which centers on him being “America’s mayor” as the chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

This role will allow him, he says, to lobby on behalf of the country’s cities, attract more attention to Louisville (which equals more investment) and receive support from his peers — like that which helped him with the national search to hire police Chief Steve Conrad. Fischer said he’d encourage his fellow mayors to be more vision-oriented as they continue providing basic services and managing normal operations of the city.

Sounds good, but can Fischer really deliver?

I argue that Fischer’s vision for Louisville is lackluster at best and lacks the compassion he claims we have. We can’t eat bourbon, Sir, and for those homeowners and residents in the California neighborhood with black residue on their homes from the production of our sacred drink, bourbonism hasn’t been so good to them.

The tourism and hospitality industry wasn’t created from scratch as the mayor claims. Nationally, jobs in the service sector have been increasing, and the Derby City has continued to host visitors since the first sale of enslaved Africans and the racing of thoroughbreds.

I wonder if Fischer and his colleagues have a plan for a national living wage that would boost the pay of those service jobs. I wonder if they cautioned Fischer on how to build and incorporate sports facilities and hotels in our economy in ways that aren’t exploitative to local workers and contractors.

I wonder if he and other mayors trade stories about moving poor, Black residents from the urban core to the suburbs and exurbs. I wonder how many of them will support Michael Bloomberg for president.

Louisville Metro Council offered Chief Conrad a vote of no confidence in 2018, likely in response to mishandling of child abuse and rape allocations against officers, the unsuccessful use of “stop-and-frisk” policies and the continued increase in homicides then.

I wonder how Fischer talks about his relationship to the legislative branch with his mayoral colleagues. What does he tell them about how he deals with poor air quality, neighborhoods that flood when we get a good rain, increasing homelessness or what it’s like to close libraries?

A previous president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Elizabeth Kautz of Burnsville, Minnesota, was quoted in the Costello interview: “He’s going to have a really huge, full schedule.”

I wonder how lobbying the Kentucky legislature fits into his 2020 schedule. I wonder what his state legislative agenda is, if it involves him actually talking with the other mayors of cities and towns across the Commonwealth or even his own constituents. I wonder if he will lobby for progressive tax reform.

As Fischer ushers in a new year, this time as America’s mayor and Bloomberg’s fundraising co-chair, I wonder when he’ll have time to be Louisville’s mayor. Aside from fancy Derby parties, more and more bourbon and lying to the American public about how great Bloomberg would be as president, what will Fischer get done in 2020? I hope at the very least he replaces the leadership of Louisville Forward. 

As is, there’s no one left with which to share his Bob Marley story. •

Cassia Herron, chairperson for Kentuckians for The Commonwealth, has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan.