Bill Dieruf is one of four candidates in the Republican primary for Louisville mayor. He is currently the mayor of Jeffersontown, a small city in Jefferson County, and is term-limited in that position.
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?
What I bring to the table is 12 years of experience. There’s a lot of things that need to be done, but Jeffersontown is doing them, and we can move that into downtown. Rick Sanders, our police chief who has experience through the Drug Enforcement Administration of dealing with gangs in Chicago, he understands what to do. It’s one thing to read the book and try to do it. It’s another thing to have leadership, have the knowledge and the ability to do it. One advantage I have is Rick Sanders, who will come with me.
What we look for is community-oriented policing. That’s something that’s easy to say, but we need more police officers to do that. We are 300-plus officers short. We understand what the police officers need and why they’ll come back. It makes me feel great when I go to a University of Louisville game and officers walk up to me and say, “We’re coming back if you’re downtown.” They understand that I am firm, but I am fair. And I respect what they do on a daily basis. Our community needs to know their officers and our officers need to know the community. And that means, many times, we have officers that look like the community, and they’re part of the community. Our police districts will look a little different than they are right now and our police officers will be trained in a different way.
We also absolutely have to do intelligence-led policing. And without getting into too much detail, that’s what our chief did in Chicago. Rick Sanders put together a list of the top 30 gang leaders and cartel leaders. When Louisville said there’s no gangs, they were getting rid of 78 gangs in Chicago. Within six months, they had the gang leaders, 22 of them, gone. So we understand what needs to be done on day one.
The other part of it is that we have to stop putting people in jail that shouldn’t be there. All of us are one surgery away from possibly being addicted to drugs. These people aren’t criminals, they can be helped. What we’ve done here in Jeffersontown is we adopted the Angel Program. The program has over 300 locations nationwide. Now we also have the victims advocates that we would also move downtown and make sure that if a person is a victim of spousal abuse, we help them through the court system and help them get healed. What they’re going through is something that should not be and they don’t know how to get out of it. So whether it’s a victim advocate, or the drug addiction, we don’t just drop you and say, “Here, go get help.” We stay with you and make sure that the program continues for you to stay healthy. Because many times people fall backwards, and we have to help them again.
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?
As an accountant, audits are something that I look forward to. The audits, whether it’s coming from the U.S. Justice Department or it’s internal, you look at what they’re bringing to you, and you take the value and make yourself better. You don’t look at it as a negative. Now, granted, we can’t do everything, but we have to go in with open minds.
As I traveled all parts of this county, and especially in the West End, no one wants bullets coming through their house. And in certain parts of the city, that’s a nightly occurrence. People do want the safety of the police, but they want the police to keep them safe and not have a problem. That’s where community policing comes in. The people in the neighborhood have the police that they get to know, and then they work with the police. And as I traveled down in, say, the West End, the people down there, it’s not a matter of they don’t want the police. They want to be safe, they want the police to work with them. They don’t want the police to work apart from them. Locally, we have to look at what is best to teach the police to be able to be safe in a community. Some of those things are allowing the police to be police when they’re needed.
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?
The biggest thing we have to do is get them off the streets. When you talk about housing, there are groups like the area ministries or USA Cares that find people housing and have finances and stuff to help them during that time when they are adjusting to housing, whether it’s behavioral needs that they have, or whether it’s the rent or utilities.
When you talk about affordable housing for the whole community, whether they’re homeless or not, it’s a larger step forward. We need to look at several things. One, when we build apartments, that’s fantastic. But I think it’s short-sighted, because you’re just building a person a place to keep renting and keep renting. If we look to the future, we have to build something that somebody can own so they can build generational wealth. There are programs out there where you help the person and they help themselves gain the first house and then you work them toward other houses. That can be done in the neighborhood that they love. We don’t necessarily have to move them out of the neighborhood. And if they do that in the neighborhood they love, then it’s not gentrification. It’s a growth situation for the people that are there.
Many times we build apartments and we want to make them around the community. But if we’re doing that, let’s look at where we’re putting them. I’ve seen some of them that they put out in the county, because they said we should spread them out. They put them in an area for people with limited resources and they don’t have any retail around them, they don’t have bus service around. So what you’ve done is isolate that person out in a community where they can’t grow and they can’t get to work, they can’t get food. I think we need to look at the totality, not just one answer fits all.
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?
They need the incentives to be there to help protect them. People that have lived their life for many years, and this is their community. And they have to be protected in the future so that their house is not something that they can’t afford. It’s a creative means to allow people to come in to be a part of the community, but yet not raise the community prices up.
There’s various ways to do that, whether you’re talking about a property tax freeze for several years or taxing new properties while holding the others down. You have to bring businesses in, so that the people that have the houses can gain generational wealth. You don’t want to hamper them from making money on the house. But yet, you don’t want to price them out. So it is a very delicate balance, but it’s not one that you can’t do. In the last 70 years, they’ve been working to try to do something on affordable housing and many things they’ve done haven’t worked. So you take what hasn’t worked, and don’t repeat it. Look at the programs that we have down there that are working, and put the money there.
When we start talking about businesses we look to help more Black businesses in this community. And as a small business owner of a hardware store, I understand what it means to own a small business and what it means to fight a Home Depot or Lowe’s or something like that. I do not understand what it means to be a Black male or female trying to open up a business in this community. But I am there to help them. Because there’s more to opening businesses than just giving them a storefront. We have to be able to help them beyond day one and show them the management part of it to where they can actually make a profit and gain what they need to grow. So, let’s stop doing the thing that sells well for the press when they can take a picture of a storefront, and look at the total picture of how to get the minorities where they can be part of the rest of the community that is making money.
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?
It has to be a priority, not a thing that’s number 99 out of 100 on the list. The priority of the mayor is to make you proud of your community, which we did here in Jeffersontown. It has to go from the mayor to the people that work for the city. If you make a community look great, people will take care of it. If you make a community look bad, people treat it the same way you treat it. So, if you don’t care about picking up trash, they won’t care about picking up trash.
When you come across the bridge, and you see a little bit of the city, you’re gonna go, “Wow, I really want to live there.” That sounds very idealistic, but it’s not. We’ve done that here. And people want to live in a place that really looks good. But if Metro Government does not care about a certain area of town, that resounds into the neighborhood that you live in.
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?
I’ll go two ways with that. One would be the city’s tree canopy. We have a study that shows us where the heat islands are in our community, but yet we look to a developer over here and say we should have him plant 10 more trees. That sounds great, but that isn’t the heat island, which is in the West End or other areas. So, we should look at those areas and plant trees to make sure those people have the equity that they should. The trees actually add value to the houses and the community as a whole, along with adding the shade needed for the heat that we’re having.
On the flooding situation, the city here has control of our own destiny as far as water flow and the clear water. J-Town does this and we handle the situation here very well. When there’s development, we look at what effect that development has and then we have a plan and move forward with it. So talking to the Metropolitan Sewer District, they asked me about what I would do as the mayor. I said we would sit down and come up with a plan, what you think we should be doing and what we feel that the city should be moving forward with, and do it. They understand where the flow should go and understand where the money should be.
It’s a matter of spending the money wisely and not in a way that is, in a sense, wasteful. The problem is sometimes we patch so much we get nothing done. When I came into the job here, there was a road that was not paved for several years. If we had paved it at the time that it needed to be paved, it would have cost $122,000. But it waited until I came in, we had to do major structural repair. It cost us $372,000. Same way with water control, we need to have the situation where we are going out and doing water control for all neighborhoods around the community.