There are seven independent candidates running for mayor this year. They range in age and profession, as well as where in the city they live and where they land on key issues.
Five of these candidates participated in a forum on Oct. 16, hosted by the League of Women Voters, WFPL and WAVE 3 News. Billy Ralls, Isaac Marion Thacker IV, Jackie Green, Sean Vandevander and Chris Thieneman joined the conversation.
Below, listen to or read their responses to a few of our questions regarding the present and future of Louisville. Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.
As mayor, what would you do to address the problem of Louisville’s aging infrastructure, which has caused sewer cave-ins and damage to roadways? And, how would you pay for your solution?
“Well, the way that I would deal with the situation is to spend money on it and to use that money wisely. It’s certain that with a sewer system that has parts that are 150 years old, that something needs to be done, needs to continue to be done. The work is ongoing, as I understand it. I’ve done some thinking about how I would fund it and the work that needs to be done, it seems that there is so much of it, that the best way I believe to go about it, because it is a very exigent situation, is to take the fairly unusual step of a bond issuance.”
“The Metropolitan Sewer District does have a lot of infrastructure that is 150 years old. A large portion of the problem with the cave-ins that we’re having is not due to the age but to the flooding, which the system is not built to handle. This flooding is a result of climate change. We are doing nothing to address that. What we need to do is get rid of a lot of surface parking lots. These hard surfaces do not collect the water. They let that water run into the sewer system, and it washes out the old mortar and brick and the sewers collapse. Do we need a rate increase? We do. Do we need a wiser use of that $4 billion consent decree funding? We need that more wisely spent to address the real issues.”
“Earlier we heard Mayor Fischer say that eight years ago he audited MSD. Since then, there have been two or three changes of leadership at MSD, and again, we are going to have a $4 billion mandate on the taxpayer over the next 20 years. One of the main ways that we can pay for some of this locally without depending on federal funding is the legalization and taxation of cannabis. Louisville alone, without the state of Kentucky, stands to net $20 to $40 million annually. That does not include any sales in the rest of Kentucky. MSD has been running wild, as you heard candidate [Angela] Leet state earlier, that the executive director of MSD is currently under investigation by the Ohio Office of the Attorney General. Those are facts.There’s no way that we’re going to pay for any structure whether it be roads, sewers, water lines, etc., without generating some type of new revenue, which would come from legalized cannabis.”
“Our city’s a mess. We all know that. We’ve got to have a priority list for the areas that need it most. And we’ve got to put all our crews on those streets and infrastructure and make sure they do it in a timely fashion. I believe working with the state, if we could have a city sales tax, either 1 or 2 percent, would cover all the needs that the city has. And that’s what we use on those sewage and drainage problems.”
“We have horrible leadership in our MSD, it is abused. The public developers are looked at like the enemy. We should be looked upon as part of the solution. We have a lot of great ideas, but we’re looked upon as the greedy developers and it’s just not true. We deserve to be heard. And there’s a lot of great engineers out there that would love to help our problems with the sewers. But we need new leadership.”
Issues such as poverty, homelessness and trauma can take a toll on children and affect their performance in school. As mayor, what would you do to address these problems and how would that impact the success of Jefferson County Public Schools?
“Poverty is a function of poor education and poor jobs. One of the first things that my administration will do is to reorganize TARC [the public transit agency], which would change drastically the way we move in Louisville. What will happen with that is that there will be a massive redevelopment boom in the urban core, and then the older neighborhoods and West End. That redevelopment boom will create many jobs and redefine our land use. This is not only a transportation issue, but it’s an access to jobs issue. And that would be the first step.”
“There’s a huge racial and socioeconomic divide in the city. One of the issues that JCPS faces — and I’m very excited about leadership under Dr. Marty Pollio as we move forward in Louisville — is how do we educate the future and there is no longer a one size fits all type of education. But what we’re seeing with poverty, specifically in certain areas of Louisville, is that education is lacking. Resources for those schools are lacking. Oftentimes teachers have to go out and buy books, pens, pads, other resources that are needed in the classroom. There is no funding to address poverty, there is no funding to address homelessness. Again, no other candidate in this race has offered any solution to generate new revenue. Legalizing cannabis is the only way to solve poverty and homelessness in Louisville.”
“I believe that poverty can be solved and educational problems that we have can be solved with jobs. But to get those jobs to come to Louisville, to get big corporations to want to come to Louisville and bring staff, they got to feel safe coming to Louisville, They can’t feel unsafe about going into any area. It can’t feel unsafe about going to school there. It can’t feel unsafe about even visiting those areas. We’ve got to solve the crime problem to get businesses to come here to provide the funds and jobs for people have a better life and instill the education that they need at home to transfer over into the school system.”
“Depending on which school you’re talking about, you can get a great education. My daughter went to Ballard High School. She graduated and now she’s doing very well in a college up in Canada. But she had food on our table. She had resources to get to school and back without getting on a bus. I would prefer to have the kids closer to school. How we do that is up for debate, obviously. But if they could not have to spend so much time taking a bus to school, they would have so much more opportunity to do other things. We need to get them fed, we need to make sure that they have meals in and that would be number one with me. Even though the mayor doesn’t have anything to do with the school system, I still would be involved, I would still have my opinions, I would be vocal and talk to the citizens about what we can do together.”
“Poverty and homelessness are indeed two of the biggest problems facing the city. And I would address homelessness by procuring as many as needed of the thousands of vacant and abandoned properties through the powers of eminent domain and condemnation, renovating them and then renting them to the homeless without preconditions at affordable rents. As for poverty, I believe that my proposal to increase the minimum wage $15 an hour would largely end that simply by that one seemingly simple but elusive thing. Yes, being poor or being homeless makes it very difficult to achieve in school. And I believe that by treating the causes it would treat the symptoms.”
What steps would you take to address the opioid crisis in the Louisville area, both in terms of preventing its growth and helping those already affected by it?
“I go back to legalization of cannabis and states that have safe access to cannabis. They see up to a 30 percent decrease in overdoses of heroin and opiates both. As a two-time brain cancer survivor, because of cannabis I’ve used absolutely no opioids whatsoever. So if we’re going to address the issue that’s plaguing the city, plaguing the state, plaguing the nation, we have to look to other states and cities that already have proactive programs in place. The other part of addressing those issues of heroin and opiate addiction in Louisville is looking at the systemic causes of those. Why are people looking to run to these extremes? Is it because they started out on pills and then they end up in the streets? Or is it vice versa? We also don’t have anybody looking at the psychological aspects of these illnesses. And again, addiction is an illness. We’ve got to go back and look at something that’s going to actually provide solutions, provide new funding. And again, that’s legalized cannabis, get people off the hard drugs, get people off the heroin, off the needle and provide funding for new treatment and addiction programs.”
“The problem would be solved if you stop the source. There’s places in Kentucky and West Virginia that there will be a million pills prescribed for a population of a couple thousand. We have to go to our physicians [who] are prescribing all these large doses of pain medications, and stop the source. People, you say, get hooked on the stuff. All you have to do is say no. How many times have I been with people and they say, ‘You want to try this?’ And I say, ‘No, I don’t want to be out of control or hooked on something.’ You just have to say no. Dry up the source, just dry up the source. And then I think that would solve everything.”
“I went all the way out to California to meet a guy that works with the people that have the addictions and he agreed, just like Sean Vandevander, we should legalize cannabis. We should make that one of the first things that any mayor needs to meet that up in front and talk to Frankfort. If they don’t want to have it in the other little cities, then we ought to try to just do it for us. That’s what we should be getting from Frankfort, but we need to go after the pharmaceutical companies. I agree with suing them because I think they were definitely part of the problem. There are some innocent folks. It’s not as easy just to say no. I’ve had family members, friends, it’s a very tough, addictive problem and we need to be more compassionate for those folks.”
“I, too, believe that legalizing cannabis would be a good step as far as dealing with the opioid problem. I know it’s a tremendously large problem. But there’s a companion problem on the other side, and that is people who are in pain and cannot get a hold of opioids because of the war on drugs. So I just wanted to throw that in sort of as a caveat from the other side. But as far as reducing the opioid addiction and the horrible things that it causes I’m pretty much with at least two of the other candidates here that legalizing cannabis would be a very good step.”
“I agree about the legalization of cannabis. We do need to hold also the pharmaceutical industry much more accountable. I do believe we also need to sort of back away a little bit from this Bourbon Trail, that too can generate addictions. We need to hold the military more accountable. Many of our vets are coming back broken and addicted. And it’s difficult to watch the military recruit our healthy youth and then return them to the city broken. We also need to address this issue with the state. Many of the opioid problems that we’re having here in Louisville are problems that began just as much of the homelessness began in some of the other Kentucky counties. I’d take some of the homeless folk to Frankfort and let them help us lobby Frankfort for a little more help.”