Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Thursday laid out an agenda for the year ahead that drew heavily on the events of 2020, ranging from racial justice protests to the threat of COVID-19.
All of the city’s challenges are made more difficult by the pandemic, he said.
“The key to all this is getting through the pandemic so people are healthy, so [the] workforce can be back to a full complement, our downtown and can be full of people again, which will help with tourism and other activities,” Fischer said.
He delivered his annual State of the City address to the Rotary Club of Louisville via Zoom and posted it to his YouTube page.
Fischer described a number of obstacles he believes Louisville must overcome as he eyes a recovery that may or may not arrive during 2021, his second-to-last year as mayor.
They are: eliminating COVID-19, rebuilding the economy, advancing racial justice and equity, reimagining public safety and reducing gun violence.
Here is how Fischer proposed addressing these issues.
Fischer called on Louisville residents to continue safety measures such as wearing masks in public and social distancing. At the same time, he expressed hope that a ramped-up vaccination effort under President Joe Biden would help immunize 230,000 people in Louisville.
“Please, roll up your sleeves, get your shot on when this life saving vaccine is available to you,” Fischer said.
The mass vaccination site at Broadbent Arena, opened earlier this month, will serve 4,000 people this week, he said. So far, healthcare workers can get vaccinated there; in the future, it may be used to vaccinate the general public.
Rebuilding the economy
The city will focus on rebuilding downtown, specifically with a yet-to-be-formed downtown revitalization team. Fischer said that team will “identify and prioritize actions to speed the recovery of downtown” following the pandemic, using existing and new strategies.
He said the team will include representatives from local businesses, institutions and arts and culture organizations.
Still, Fischer recognized COVID-19 changed some things permanently.
“We understand that some form of telework is most likely here to stay. Office and business needs will change,” he said. “But I believe in our downtown and its assets, our hotels, restaurants, cultural institutions and venues.”
He said some economic sectors, such as manufacturing and bourbon remain strong, but the key industries of tourism and hospitality continue to suffer.
Of the 65,000 hospitality workers in Louisville, about two-thirds have been laid off or furloughed, he said.
Fischer also said his administration is planning the next fiscal year’s budget. Citing past budget-driven cuts and federal funding via the CARES Act last year, he said he did not forecast “drastic” reductions or layoffs of Metro employees.
Advancing racial justice and equity
Fischer called back to moves he made in late 2020 — declaring racism a public health crisis and releasing a document outlining goals and strategies for addressing inequity.
He reiterated support for these actions and “committed to making racial equity a higher priority than ever before.”
“To do that, we must first acknowledge that we have not done enough to eradicate racism from our institutions, our policies and practices,” he said. “While there has been progress, so, so much remains undone.”
Skeptics of Fischer’s efforts on this front question whether his plans include effective strategies and sufficient accountability measures. He also lost support last year for his handling of the police killing of Breonna Taylor, from what some saw as an effort to initially ignore the incident to the violent response of police to peaceful protesters.
Reimagining public safety
The mayor said Louisville needs to recognize both that police officers are doing “incredibly challenging, dangerous and essential work” and that the department needs to evolve.
He pointed to the recent hiring of Erika Shields, the former chief of police in Atlanta who resigned after the shooting of Rayshard Brooks, as a step in that process.
Although he again praised her decision to step aside at that time, some in Louisville have described her selection as “tone deaf” and said they see her as a quitter. She will be sworn in on Tuesday.
Reducing gun violence
There were 173 reported homicides in Louisville in 2020, a figure Fischer called “unacceptable.”
“As we look ahead, one thing we know by now is that we can’t arrest our way out of this challenge,” he said.
Fischer said the new Group Violence Initiative, recently funded through mid-year budget adjustments by the Metro Council, will work to address the issue. That program will provide information to those at risk of being perpetrators or victims to show them what services they can use to avoid further violence.