Community Metro Louisville

Craig Greenberg released his first television campaign ad Wednesday, focused on the recent shooting inside of his Butchertown campaign office. Residents and political science experts were divided in their responses to the Democratic mayoral candidate’s one-minute video.

The ad features Greenberg’s wife, Rachel, describing the events leading up to the shooting, which occurred on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. In the opening seconds of the video, she recalls being tired and in a rush because the Super Bowl took place the night before.

Later that day, police say, a local activist and University of Louisville student named Quintez Brown entered Greenberg’s third-floor campaign office. Brown allegedly stood in the doorway of the office and fired multiple shots in Greenberg’s direction.

“I thought to myself, ‘Did I kiss him goodbye?’” Rachel says in the ad.

The campaign video includes a montage of Greenberg and his family, but does not feature Greenberg’s voice. It attempts to draw a connection between that event and the spike in homicides and gun violence Louisville has seen over the past few years.

“He has it in him to make the city safer for everyone,” Rachel says of her husband.

The emotional video is Greenberg’s first campaign ad since launching his campaign for mayor last April. Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk David Nicholson, also a Democrat, is the only other mayoral candidate with television and radio spots. Nicholson released a television ad last month focused on his plan for “neighborhood-level policing.”

Greenberg’s spot drew a range of reactions, from critics accusing him of exploiting the shooting to others who saw the video as empowering.

Experts who study political messaging had mixed opinions as well.

Dewey Clayton, a professor of political science at U of L, said he thought the video “missed the mark.” In an interview with WFPL News, Clayton questioned why Greenberg’s campaign used the office shooting as an example of the “crime wave” facing Louisville.

“You want to get a message out about how you are concerned about crime in the city, and that’s clearly understandable,” he said. “Everyone wants to be safe, but I just thought there were better ways to do that without sending some negative messages along with it, even if they were unintended.”

Tom Fougerousse/University of Louisville

Dewey Clayton

Clayton has a personal connection to the shooting, having taught two classes Brown took at U of L. He called the 22-year-old a “fine young man” who “clearly has some mental issues going on.”

Brown pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder and wanton endangerment charges he faces. His attorney said he has “serious mental health issues.”

Although the video never mentions Brown by name or the fact that he is a Black man, Clayton said many Louisville residents are likely to know the context. And he said focusing on that specific incident could be seen as playing into the racial stereotypes of traditional “tough on crime” campaign ads, like those used by George H.W. Bush in 1988.

“You’ve got a Black male here going into a white candidate’s office and wildly shooting,” Clayton said. “Some people may interpret it that way, and some of those who helped put this ad together may have seen this as an opportunity to send a message to middle-class whites, particularly those that may be further out from the inner city.”

University of Kentucky political science professor D. Stephen Voss, however, said he thought the Greenberg video was “brilliant.”

Courtesy of the University of Kentucky

D. Stephen Voss

Voss said it is a rare example of a campaign ad focused on crime that seeks to bring the community together, rather than be divisive.

“Usually, anti-crime ads, like most political ads, root themselves in anger and frustration,” he said. “In making this anti-crime message about the loss that people can suffer and about the community needing to pull together behind somebody who can do something about it, it’s at least trying to be anti-crime and yet unifying.”

Voss said only a minority of voters, those who closely follow news and campaigns, intellectualize politics and pick the candidate that most aligns with their ideologies. He said most voters are not driven by rational decision-making but by party and emotions. Those are the people campaign ads and emotional pleas are meant to influence.

“People who are reading into [Greenberg’s] ad information about who shot at him, why he shot at him, they’re already so politically engaged and knowledgeable that the ad is not having much effect on them anyway,” he said. “They’re not seeing it from the eyes of someone who is less into this stuff and experiencing it as an ad.”

Voss noted the ad does not explicitly mention anything about the alleged shooter. He added that there’s no version of an anti-crime ad that wouldn’t be open to the same criticisms Clayton and others outlined.

As for the accusation that Greenberg is exploiting a tragedy, Voss said, “Who more has a right to exploit an assassination attempt than the victim? I don’t know. He didn’t ask for this.”

According to Merriam-Webster, an assassination is “murder by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons.” There is no public information about a potential motive in this case.

It’s unclear if Greenberg plans to release more ads in the weeks ahead. His campaign had more than $800,000 in the bank in January.

Greenberg will face off against a crowded Democratic field in the May 17 primary. Other candidates include activists Shameka Parrish-Wright and Timothy Findley Jr., Nicholson, Anthony Oxendine, Skylar Graudick, Sergio Lopez and Colin Hardin.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.