Mayor Greg Fischer’s more-than-a-decade run as head of Louisville’s government has basically broken into two parts: before 2020, and after. In the before 2020 years, Fischer’s business deals, “compassionate city” catch phrase and consistent visibility made him extremely popular — in 2018, he won the Democratic primary with 74.7% of the vote. But, during 2020 — after COVID moved in, after the LMPD killing of Breonna Taylor, after the civil rights protests that followed — the criticism of Fischer, and the effectiveness and transparency of the mayor’s office, began to pile up. As we enter 2022, Fischer has one more year as Louisville’s mayor before term limits set in. During a one-on-one end of the year sit-down at Metro Hall on Dec. 23, LEO met with Fischer to talk about some of the biggest issues surrounding the city. It was impossible to get to all of the issues sweeping through Louisville in the 15 minutes we were allowed for the interview, but here’s the conversation that we had.
LEO: I wanted to dive right into some big issues and leave the back end of the conversation for some more open-ended questions. So, three people in the jail recently died, one of which Metro Corrections has requested a civil rights investigation into by the FBI. [Editor’s Note: Another person has died in the jail since this conversation. All four deaths happened in a 33 day period]. The DOJ is obviously also investigating the LMPD for discriminatory policing, [and] using force on protesters. There’s obviously good cops in the city, almost nothing is a monolith. But, there are also patterns, which you’re well aware of. Your administration has used the term ‘compassionate city’ for a long time. Do you think local law enforcement and the criminal justice system has been compassionate to Louisvillians? And do you think your administration has done enough to keep them fair, equitable and just?
Mayor Greg Fischer: I’m pleased that people hold us to this idea of being a compassionate city, so that should be something we’re all proud of to say: We aspire to that. When I see any kind of failure, you have to ask: Is it intentional? Or is it a result of big numbers and bad things are going to happen? So, when it’s a process or a program or a training failure, we can address that. When it’s an individual malfeasance or illegal behavior that needs to be addressed too. So, the Department of Justice investigation into LMPD — there are four new DOJ investigations announced this year, some 70 cities are in some type of review period — is going to help make LMPD a much better organization, in my mind. We’re embracing it as a city, for that way. The jail situation: We’ve had four death in the jail this year, an average year is in the six to seven range. Three of them just happened to happen in one week. The one that we reported to the FBI was concerning, obviously that’s why we reported it. So, it’s under investigation. I can’t really say much more than that. When there are instances that we see clearly very disturbing behavior took place, we’re going to make sure we understand what that is and people will be held to accountable and systems will be changed, if they need to be changed.
What has your relationship with Metro Council been like this past year, since they passed the no confidence resolution on you in the fall of 2020? I know you considered the steps they asked for, because I went back and watched your reaction to the resolution, where you put some of the blame on your own shoulders, and said that you wanted to create a path to work with them, and address the city’s biggest issues. So, what’s the relationship been like, what’s the dynamic been like and how have you all been working toward those steps together, and on the biggest issues for the city?
It’s been a lot easier to work with the council because we’ve got more resources that have come from the Coronavirus Relief Fund and the American Rescue Plan. For 10 years, basically, we’ve been having to reduce the budget because of, primarily, pension increases and things like that — that were beyond our control. So, this is the first time that we’ve actually had resources to work with. So, we’ve done that in conjunction with the council. There’s been a bunch of good programs created as a result of that. So, I feel like the council relations are strong right now. We still have more resources left to work on, as well. And the reality is, when you have 26 council people, you’re going to have people who disagree with you from time to time, and that’s normal — that’s part of the process. We had unprecedented challenges as a city last year, in the summer of 2020. Certainly we were not alone as a city in that. It would have been preferable if everybody came together to work on those in the right way, but that didn’t happen.
So, Louisville already passed the record number of homicides again this year. [Editor’s Note: A reminder the conversation happened on Dec. 23, 2021]. I know that we’ve been investing in things like GVI [Group Violence Intervention], we have the office of safe and healthy neighborhoods, we have people like Dr. Eddie Woods with No More Red Dots. There are initiatives in place, but when we see numbers like we saw this year, what are the next steps, how do we go further, to curb this violence?
We, as a city, have had a series of one-off things that have not been funded properly. We don’t have a fully-funded system in place — we’re on a path in ’22 to having that in place, both by the increases in this last fiscal year budget, started July 1, quadrupled the amount of spending to almost $20 million outside of law enforcement, in areas like prevention and intervention and things that you spoke about. We were able to pass the police contract that provides completive pay for police officers, so hopefully we can get some stabilization in the police force and then in the American Rescue Plan funding that just passed, some $40 million or so in additional public safety measures, from everything from technology to deflection models to increased investment in intervention, the kind of work that Eddie Woods is doing. So, ’22 I’m hoping is going to be a much improved year, because it will be the first year that we’ve got a funded system, if you will, around public safety, because most people just look at the police force, or law enforcement, for public safety — it’s much broader than that. That’s just one of what we call six pillars.
In August, the Metro government announced it will spend at least $3 million to establish a safe outdoor space for homeless individuals, with plans to purchase property in Old Louisville. What’s the status of that safe outdoor space?
It’s progressing well. We closed on the property last month. We will be announcing an operator of it in the first or second week in January. And we hope to have residents there in February. So, it will consist of, obviously, a safe location for people that want to stay outdoors. A lot of people don’t understand that some people don’t want to move inside a building, so we want a safe outdoor space for them. There will be mental health assistance for them there, transitional help for folks that do want to move to more permanent housing and there will be a place to wash your clothes and shower and eat and that type of thing. So, that’s one of four stages we have on the money that we’re putting to work with the American Rescue Plan funds. So, safe outdoor space is the first, and then transitional housing is the second and then permanent supportive housing and then more investment in affordable housing. So, that’s a big story from this past year. The significant amount of money that we’re able to dedicate to that area.
I know the initial goal was to open that in mid-November. What was the hold up? Was it purchasing the property?
Closing on the property was difficult, and then we ran into some supply chain issues, like everybody has. For the tents available, or for this available, so that’s been pushed back about six to eight weeks or so.
During your time left in office, what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish? I know there are a lot of big issues and that’s a big question, but I wanted to give you a chance to have that open-ended question at the end of the interview, to establish the goals in the year or so you have left.
In the immediate sense, we certainly want to see a reduction in gun violence and gun homicides. It’s been a really horrible 18 months. We’re starting to see improvement in the last four months, in terms of month over month — a reduction in homicides, but not nearly enough. We will see, in the next 12 months, a lot of the investments from the American Rescue Plan — that getting started, in terms of projects and building in the community. So, we’ll be running across the finish line with that. Our economy has come back quite strong from the pandemic, so we see that continued come back in the economy. Our racial equity work has been strong this past year — more important than ever, coming out of the summer of 2020. So, we got to keep working on our equity work, our police accountability. And then we’ll sum up. It’s been 12 years as mayor. The city has changed enormously in those 12 years. We’re much better known around the country as a place to do business, as a place to come for tourism, as a great place to live, so I can just say that we’ll be running across the finish line, with lots of projects going, handing off a strong city to the next mayor.
Do you have any political aspirations to run for another office, at this point?
I don’t have any. This is my first time in office. I’m an entrepreneur that just happens to be mayor. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help a lot of people, and this is a great platform to do that, but I don’t have any immediate plans to run for any other office.
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