Philip Molestina is one of four candidates in the Republican primary for Louisville mayor. He is the founding pastor of He Visto la Luz Christian Church.
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?
When anything’s going on, you have to look at taking a step back and say, “What’s really happening here?” In general, there’s a sense of distrust in the police, and especially within the immigrant community, within the Black community here in Louisville. And then you add to the fact that during the Fischer administration, for whatever reason, there’s been a shift in the trust or the support for police. There was a shift in how police see the mayor. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s there. It’s a perception. You add those two things up, and then you put on top of that what’s happened in Louisville and around the country, people just being bottled up and people feeling that thing’s are ready to explode, and you’re going to have what’s happening now, this crumbling.
The city needs to get back to the point where we have support for public safety. We have the funding. We have learned a whole lot in these last few years about being more transparent, getting involved as citizens and all these types of things. But we still need to have a balance of having authority in the city. That has to happen. The toughest thing, I think, is just getting the side of the people that just have had a hard time dealing with police to say, “I trust you.” Because if there’s no cooperation with the community, then when a crime happens, big or small, it’s gonna keep on happening. It’s not all just about money,
Those solutions are not ideal, but to me it’s that trust. You have to somehow build that trust back.
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 think the civilian review board is necessary to some degree, but it’s just such a fine line. I think the crucial part is who those people are that are on the board. You’re giving them this authority. So you have to look at what has been done in some other places, what has worked and not worked. It could go two ways: It could be something that seems good and then it goes in the other direction, or it’s just optics.
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 think the Hope Village is in the process of opening soon and that looks like a good thing. You could just say, “Well we’re going to remove the tents,” but then what can you do with that? I think the Hope Village is a good alternative. (Note: Molestina’s comments preceded the news that The Hope Village’s opening is delayed.)
There is a segment of people who will go to the Salvation Army or those places and it works for them. And then there’s a segment of people who just don’t want it, who will never cross those doors. We need to keep having services like the St. John Center and work with our partners to expand that. The tough part is the people that just don’t want help.
The encampments have increased a lot. It’s almost like there was this hesitation for this issue to really come out more in the open, but now they’re, I would say, allowing it. Come Derby time the city will clean up and act like everything’s fine. Everyone knows that’s gonna happen. They’re just cleaning it up so that out-of-town people see that we’re okay in that area. But two weeks later, it’s the same thing again. That’s not really a long-term solution.
I think as a city we are looking at the issues that are there, but at the same time we have to be so strong to say how do we prevent the guy who’s now 30 years old from heading in that direction? We need to work on building relationships with our young people. You have these things like the Boys and Girls Club, but go back and see how the funding has changed. Go back to see how those things are not consistent. One year they go there and there’s everything. The next year they go back and there’s no pools, no nothing.
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?
As the city is growing in certain areas, you’re gonna see that type of gentrification take place. There’s this issue of affordable housing and I saw in the news that Metro Council approved some changes and finally there’s some partners. But now that someone is knocking on the door, it’s like maybe we need to look at it again. It’s just this thing of as long as it’s not my back in my backyard, the people will support anything. But once it starts getting close to you, people have a tendency of saying, “Well, let’s look at it again.”
So I think what has to happen is for the council to say, “What are the areas that have that need?” Before it gets overtaken by newer development and these people are pushed out, we have to try to go ahead and identify those areas and create real incentives. If you’re a developer, and you see real incentives that are doable, that you can make your earnings and do something better for your city, I think they’ll do that. One of the things that impresses immigrants about our society is that the people here really want to give back.
It’s about finding real solutions for people that need solutions. I think as a state, even our country, we have too much of people just throwing millions of dollars over here or there just to keep some people happy.
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?
When a city starts getting to the point where things look like it’s not taken care of, then that just gives a mindset of saying, “Well, I’ll throw my trash there, too.” And it just goes on from there.
So, hypothetically, if we’re saying we put X amount of hours in different parts of the city to do cleanup, well maybe this section doesn’t need it every week, maybe we can move those resources to a section that needs it more. Maybe you say, “We just don’t have the money for that.” But then you need to take a step back look at where are those cost savings you can do to do the things that are just really the bread and butter.
Let’s clean up our city — not just on Derby. I get off the Third Street ramp, we’re heading home and I know soon it’s going to be clean, they’re gonna put the flowers, they’re gonna get all the grass cut. You wait a few months and things just go back to the way they were. People in those areas realize what you’re doing. And they just think, “That’s what they think of us.”
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?
The biggest concern that I see with that is the fact that the main component we are looking at for renewable energy is solar and it’s still an industry that’s just in its infancy. Let’s not even get into the issue that to keep solar affordable the things are made in another county, so you’re back to the dependency issue.
Is it important? Definitely. I think what the city should do is some of the things we know they’re already doing. They might put solar panels on buildings, like the police headquarters or other ones. They’re looking for ways to reduce the cost of energy. At the end of the day, if you can reduce the consumption, then you can use less of the fuels that people don’t want to be using. It’s moving in that direction, but I think it’s a very tough issue. There’s only so many resources that the city has. So yes, it’s great to get towards these energy goals. But in the meantime, the people living in the areas of town that have needs, are they just going to be just put on the back burner? That’s what’s important.