Louisville’s next mayor needs to transform the city’s identity

So the race to be the next mayor of Louisville is off and running. 

This is that moment when we feel like Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part III”: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Of course we all deserve a break from politics, but there are two main reasons to already be excited about the race to be Louisville’s next mayor (three if you count the possibility that occasional LEO contributor Dr. Ricky Jones follows through with a part-joking, part-serious announcement he made on social media about considering a run… which would turn up the dial past 10 on this race!): 2022 has a chance to comprise the most diverse field of candidates in Louisville history, and provide an opportunity to fundamentally transform the city’s identity.

So, Louisville, what do you want in your next mayor? There’s a candidate for everyone! 

Want a crime-fighter? A businessman? An educator? 

How about an environmentalist? 

Should they be young or experienced? A political insider or outsider? 

Should the next mayor be a woman? 

Should they be a uniter or an activist?

Should Louisville elect its first-ever Black mayor?

For starters, after Mayor Greg Fischer’s third and final term, he and former-Mayor Jerry Abramson will constitute 32 of the last 36 years leading the city. (For context, Louisville’s median population is just over 37 years, so it’s quite-literally a lifetime for much of the city.) While it’s unfair to broad brush three decades of failures and successes, advances and setbacks, Louisville has voted in a moderate Democrat (and white guy) to lead the city. This election has all of the ingredients to challenge that “status quo.”

Demographic changes, increased partisanship and a generation of politicians who have “waited their turn” will contribute to a large, diverse field. Yet, it’s clear that the issue of racial injustice (when considering policing, education, redlining, etc.) makes this election a unique opportunity for change. 

The two candidates in the race, so far, indicate how different this mayoral election could be, both generally as well as among Democrats: Shameka Parrish-Wright — a manager at The Bail Project, organizer, activist and regular presence among Breonna Taylor protests; and Metro Council President David James — a former police officer. Even James, who represents political establishment in many ways, would signify a divergence from the “status quo.” 

I’m not going to analyze these Democratic candidates, or speculate on the others, yet — there will be plenty of time for that in the next 15 months. But, instead of waiting for the next 10, 15, 20 or more candidates to jump in, I think it’s important we welcome these candidates in with our expectations. 

What do we want the identity of the city to be post-Mayor Fischer? Post-pandemic? After more than 150 days of protests calling for racial justice? I don’t just mean identity as in race, age, gender — any of those are fine if that’s your answer — but, more broadly, what do we want Louisville to be known for? 

Personally, I want the next mayor of Louisville to declare our intention to be the best at something. Whatever it is, I want Louisville to be the best in the country — or world. 

For a long time, my desire was for Louisville to endeavor to be the national, or global, leader in modernizing public education. What would the city’s reputation be if we resolved to rebuild every outdated school, capped class sizes at 20 and started teachers’ salaries at $75,000? 

Our goal could be to eliminate homelessness, or achieve net-negative carbon emissions. 

Or, in this moment, we have an opportunity to become a leader in police reform. I’m not suggesting it will be easy (or that I’m the first to suggest “police reform is important”), but I want a mayoral candidate, this year, to stick his or her stake in the ground and say this is where we’re going as a city. 

(Unless it’s Ricky Jones, in which case… just hang on for the ride!)

There is untapped potential in Louisville, in countless ways, and I want the next mayor to take a risk at realizing that potential. This mayoral race is our opportunity to change the identity and future of Louisville. Instead of “Possibility City” we can say, definitively, “The Greatest _____ in the World.”

Doesn’t that sound exciting?