Metro Louisville
Courtesy of David Nicholson

David Nicholson is one of eight candidates in the Democratic primary for Louisville mayor. He is the Jefferson County District Court Clerk.

Learn about the rest of the candidates here.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Over the last two years, Louisville has seen a record-breaking spike in homicides and gun violence. What do you think of the Fischer administration’s programs to combat violent crime, like the Group Violence Intervention initiative, and what would you bring to the table?

I have a three-part safety plan that starts with an Office of Violent Crime to really look at our violent crime problem and goes beyond that to assisting families directly impacted by that violent crime, from funeral services to temporary relocation. We tend to forget about what I call the shattered effect of trauma. The perpetrator or the victim in a violent crime may have cut the neighbor’s grass a block away, may have gone and read to that neighbor a block away. And now there’s some trauma in that household or anger or frustration. We need to have an office that’s available to individuals such as that. You need a wraparound approach to address violent crime. To make sure, most importantly, that the families are consistently and constantly informed with the best information that we have available to share. And if you cannot share it, you least say that, but you do that consistently and ongoing.

Secondly, you have a Fatality Review Committee to look at all domestic violence deaths. That allows all of the stakeholders that have responded to that fatality to come in, in a very neutral, non-threatening way, and go through the case. That’s how we will formulate better policies and eliminate bad policies, by looking at what we did, what we should have done and what we didn’t do. 

Then the catalyst is taking a neighborhood-based approach to policing, a micro of community policing. I want to incentivize a senior officer to get off his or her beat to work with what I call our next generation of police, 18- to 21-year-olds. They would work with this senior officer in the neighborhood, with the Metro Council person, with the pastors, with the business owners, with the citizens to understand the culture of that neighborhood. 

When you talk about criminal justice, some things never change. One thing we learned is if you allow that old couch to be dumped on the corner, next thing you know the light is shot out above it. And next thing we realize we got sex trafficking, drug trafficking, simply because no one called sanitation and said, “We have a problem on this corner.” That is how you have to begin looking and understanding your neighborhoods.

In 2020, Louisville Metro Council approved a new civilian review board and inspector general to provide more police oversight. What do you think of the police accountability reforms that are already in the works, and what would you propose to increase accountability and community trust?

I was proud that when I was executive director of the Criminal Justice Commission we adopted and put in an ordinance for the first civilian accountability board. And I’ve called for one very similar for Metro Corrections. 

The next administration will be working under the U.S. Department of Justice findings. I will move very quickly to have our police department become accredited nationally. And so you say, “Well, how? Or why?” To get that accreditation is very difficult. You have to meet national standards. I want a citizen to have confidence that a traffic stop in Middletown, in Fairdale, in Smoketown, or in Shawnee Park, that a traffic stop is going to be consistent, in whatever neighborhood it happened. 

If citizens have confidence in the men and women that have taken an oath to serve and protect, then the professional men and women certainly should have confidence in their citizens. We have to have a professional police department, and we will look beyond the statutory requirements in the academy. We have to ensure that we are giving a significant amount of hours for conflict resolution, mediation, you know, people skills. It’s going to take the time, but if you have a leader that is going to have these conversations and wants to have the conversations, engaging both sides, I think you’ll see a significant difference with our police department.

Many Louisvillians have taken note of the rapid increase in the number of residents living on the streets or in encampments throughout the city. What is your plan ensuring these folks have access to housing?

I do know that other states have been successful in making sure that they have (an electronic medical records system) for this population, like at our Norton Hospital or our Baptist Hospital. Then you can see what services they have accessed or haven’t accessed. We have a great deal of good services to get them into housing, starting with transitional housing. I think you have to get them on like a MyChart, and we have to see what each individual and their needs and circumstances are. And like in the criminal justice arena, again, you have to ensure that the funding stays consistent. That is, you’re not migrating the problem, you’re improving it. 

In that same vein, working residents across the city, and particularly in the West End, are concerned about gentrification. As mayor, how would you balance new development and redevelopment with the needs of residents who want to stay in their homes and not be priced out of their neighborhoods?

That’s one of the most important topics, you know, because we always cite our affordability here in Louisville. I know that the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator is working on trying to create some relief for individuals. We have to understand this most recent real estate housing market has been hyped. You put your house up for sale at 10 a.m. and at 10:30 there’s five offers there. And that’s in all segments of the community. It’s going to take our state legislature to help put in some benchmarks, much like they just did on vehicle property tax. People are paying property taxes on an over-inflated value. 

In the development of the new West End Tax Increment Financing district, there should have been plans for property tax caps and rent caps. We have to do a much better job, and that’s where we’re losing out when you look at some of our competing cities, or competing states. Ohio, for example, their legislature made a conscientious decision to invest in their urban cities, to want to lift up their urban cities. They came up with a robust, transferable tax credit that makes a big difference when you’re buying a home, buying a condominium, or even buying a business. I would say that we certainly have to work to do, and in my experience working with Frankfort, I think that’s what we’re gonna have to do. 

In response to our audience survey, many people voiced concerns about Louisville’s dirty streets. They wrote about litter in public parks, in bike lanes and in neighborhoods. How would you address the need to literally clean up the streets?

If we do not clean up our neighborhoods, in every aspect, the quality of life really diminishes to the point that you leave our community. I cannot tell you how many people I have engaged that have moved out of Jefferson County, and it’s not all tied to violence. It is, to some degree, the graffiti and the quality of life. We have to invest in our parks, make that a priority. When you see the trash you have to address it. When you see the graffiti, you have to remove it. It upsets me as I go down the Watterson Expressway and see the nice brick sound barriers and the precast sound barriers that are full of graffiti. 

Just this morning, I witnessed graffiti on a roof shingle and the side of a garage. That’s distracting and I know it’s upsetting to that homeowner. That’s where your leadership has to come in and say, We have to have a plan and we have to get this under control.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report saying it is “now or never” to avoid a climate catastrophe. What will you do to protect Louisville and its residents from the impacts of climate change, including the threat of increased flooding from severe weather events?

It seems every time we have rain, that it is a torrential rain. I am familiar with the Metropolitan Sewer District and some of the multi-billion dollar initiatives that they’re going to need to address this. I’m going to have to get into office and have a very detailed, thorough understanding of the expenditures, where the priorities are and those grant opportunities. I believe our Metro Council and the community has begun to ensure that we’re not allowing building in what we know are flood-prone areas. 

Certainly, climate change is a local government issue. We have to look at our own house to ensure it’s in order, including the vehicles that we’ll be buying in the future. The current administration, I believe, has begun that, but we have to ensure that we are being responsible with our carbon footprint and our buildings are green. It is another one of those top priorities that you have to be prepared for with a vision and not look at it on a project-by-project basis.

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