Dozens of local business owners and politicians, and some community members, gathered Wednesday afternoon to hear ideas for revitalizing West Louisville. But pushback from audience members against speakers affiliated with the Trump administration prompted a shouting match and then, an impassioned lecture by Gov. Matt Bevin.
The private event, held at the Caudill Seed Company in Portland, was billed as a conversation on economic development. It featured Bevin as well as two men affiliated with the Trump administration, Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott and activist Kareem Lanier.
Scott, who met Bevin at a White House event earlier this year, said Louisville could be a pilot city for implementation of Trump’s yet-to-be-released urban economic development plan.
“It can fan out from here, it can serve as a model of what we can do if we work together,” he said.
Lanier introduced the areas of focus for the White House’s proposed 13 Point Urban Revitalization Plan, about which little was previously known. The areas include education, criminal justice reform, wealth creation, job creation, affordable housing, youth and women’s empowerment, small business, banking, faith-based organizations, energy, health and wellness and community accountability organizations.
Transitional housing is another area of focus, Lanier said. He said he wants to take Louisville’s Jay Davidson, of The Healing Place, to the White House to for a policy meeting next week. Lanier visited the non-profit, which serves people suffering from drug addiction, ahead of the event.
Lanier said the plan can be be put into effect in 24 months or less. Following an implementation study, they will start the process, he said.
District 5 Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton said she doesn’t want outsiders to come in thinking they have the solution without recognizing things that are already going well in West Louisville.
“I want to get more information,” she said. The city may not be able to work on all 13 points listed by the speakers, but it could focus on a few key areas such as education and addiction, she said.
The first part of the event devolved into a shouting match after Scott answered an audience question about policies that harm people in urban areas. He said people in urban areas sometimes focus too much on the past.
“I think, in a number of cases, redlining is more imagined than real because we want to have that mentality that the white man is keeping us down or holding us back,” he said.
“Redlining” is the term for governmental policies that kept black people from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, in Louisville as well as cities around the country. In response, an audience member called him a sellout.
Bevin later took the stage for what was meant to be a conversation with local business owners. But once he got the microphone, he first criticized audience members who asked tough questions of the men who brought White House-backed ideas to the forum.
“The thing that makes me sad is this … some of the questions come from a certain amount of cynicism,” he said.
He reiterated Scott’s point that some people look backward more than ahead.
“If we focus on what the future is and how we can make it better, I don’t know how we come out of a meeting like this without anything but encouragement,” Bevin said. “But if we want to constantly look backwards then I’m sad to think that 20 years from now I’m going to continue to see a city sliding sideways and backwards.”
He lectured audience members who, he suggested, aren’t open to people bringing ideas for improving their city.
Bevin said he was not at the event to make promises. But he said he is committed to working with those who are willing to look forward.
Once he started taking questions submitted by the audience, Bevin continued to hammer the point that community members should be grateful for others’ ideas and that they should be willing to take care of their own neighborhoods. He lamented that the event turned political, and said he was aware this was not an area that voted for him as governor.
His commitment to helping revitalize West Louisville would be to take advantage of tax policy, economic investments and other relevant opportunities, he said.
Bevin also spoke at length about his low-income upbringing, and defended the controversial Medicaid work requirement he announced recently. He said that is one way of creating “on-ramps” to the American dream.
Community organizer Chanelle Helm, who asked the question about redlining, said there wasn’t enough community representation at the event. She said she doesn’t see the small business owners at the event in the neighborhoods at other times.
“If they wanted to speak to people, they would speak to the actual small business owners that employ people here, and community leaders,” Helm said. “There are several of us and we never get invited to these conversations.”
She said she was not invited to the event but showed up and managed to get in.
Jack Mazurak, communications director for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, said the size of the invite-only event was limited by fire codes at the venue.
Listen to the whole meeting below; warning: sound quality isn’t great.