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Here’s how Louisville mayoral candidates say they’d approach issues important to Black residents

As candidates for Louisville mayor attend debates and community events hoping to build a winning coalition, they’ve put an emphasis on trying to win the votes of Black residents. 

Roughly 23 percent of Louisville Metro’s 778,000 residents identify as Black or African American, according to the most recent U.S. Census. And a data analysis by the Courier Journal found that Black voter turnout increased significantly in Jefferson County during the 2020 primary election. 

In August, Republican candidate Bill Dieruf attended California Day in west Louisville to shake hands with residents and spread his message of voting for “the person, not the party.” The nonpartisan mayor of Jeffersontown also recently highlighted some of his campaign signs that had been placed along Rowan Street and Magazine Street in the Portland and Russell neighborhoods.

“Normally, you don't see signs for Republican candidates in the West End,” Dieruf’s campaign wrote on social media. 

Greenberg, the former CEO of 21c Museum Hotels, has also tried to make his presence known at events in west Louisville’s historically Black neighborhoods, attending Parkland Day, the Russell Homecoming Block Party and a recent debate hosted by the Kappa Alpha Kappa Sorority. He received endorsements from prominent community voices, including state Sen. Gerald Neal, state Rep. Pamela Stevens and long-time civil rights activist Mattie Jones. 

WFPL News reviewed candidates’ statements from interviews, debates and campaign material to examine promises each has made to address concerns raised by Black Louisvillians. 

Minority-owned businesses and job training

Both Greenberg and Dieruf have promised to support minority-owned businesses, if they’re elected on November 8th. 

On his campaign website, Dieruf acknowledged a “level playing field has not existed for our Black citizens,” and he said Black business owners should have access to “influential business relationships and capital,” which he calls the keys to success.

Dieruf, who owned and operated a hardware store in Jeffersontown, told WFPL News during the primaries that any plan to bolster minority-owned businesses in Louisville should go further than simply providing grants or affordable storefront space. He said it has to include mentorship, too.

“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,” Dieruf said. “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.”

Dieruf has also said that Louisville Metro Government should compile a list of local minority- and women-owned businesses and publicize it, so other companies can do business with them. 

As part of his “Day One Priorities” plan released last month, Greenberg said he wants the city to invest in people and neighborhoods that have historically been overlooked. 

“Craig Greenberg will ensure our city’s government provides Black Owned Businesses with equal and equitable opportunities in city spending and investing,” the plan said.

Greenberg and Dieruf both said they will promote existing job training programs to ensure Louisville is an attractive place to start a business. Dieruf has highlighted the work of the Academies of Louisville, a public school program that connects students with local employers and job skills. Greenberg has vowed to expand Metro’s SummerWorks Program to provide young people with after-school jobs.

Public safety

In 2020, Louisville saw a record-breaking 165 homicides. The record was broken again in 2021 with more than 180 killings. Driving these numbers was increase in gun violence.

Dieruf and Greenberg both call public safety their top priority. 

Greenberg released an “all in” plan for a safer city in January, promising to “fully staff and fund” the Louisville Metro Police Department. City officials have said the agency is currently short more than 250 officers. Greenberg wants to fill those vacancies by bringing back some retired officers and making sure new recruits know “they have the support from the mayor.”

The “all in” plan calls for the creation of a “LMPD Community Service Academy,” prioritizing violent crime and gearing the department toward “community-oriented policing.” Greenberg has also said his administration would address the root causes of crime by expanding community centers, increasing access to affordable housing and removing graffiti and abandoned cars from city streets.

“The existing tow lot is overcrowded,” he said. “Owners need to come and retrieve their cars, or, if they don’t under the specified time, those cars need to be sold to make room for additional cars.”

Greenberg has repeatedly touted his proposal to disable illegal guns seized by LMPD before sending them off to the state to be auctioned, which Kentucky law requires.

In interviews, Greenberg said he wants to tackle violent crime “in the South End, West End, East End.”

“We have way too much violent crime in our city, we have way too much crime, period, in our city,” he told LEO Weekly in March.

Like Greenberg, Dieruf has made his support for community-oriented policing clear. He told WFPL News in April that in conversations he’s had with residents, including some in west Louisville, they’ve expressed support for good policing. 

“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,” Dieruf said. “They want to be safe, they want the police to work with them. They don’t want the police to work apart from them.”

An audit released last year by the Chicago-based firm Hillard Heintze found LMPD’s relationship with Black communities is “deeply strained,” and city officials did not have a plan for rebuilding trust. Dieruf reiterated his support for community policing as a way to address this at a recent forum hosted by the Shawnee Neighborhood Association.

"We have to stop putting the wrong people in jail,” Dieruf said, according to WLKY. “We have to stop pulling the young Black male over because his blinker is not going — that's not the proper policing.”

While Dieruf has said Louisville shouldn’t be filling up its jail with people who have substance abuse issues, he said his administration would instead focus on putting “gang and cartel leaders” behind bars. While accepting the endorsement of local police unions in August, Dieruf said the city’s spike in violent crime was causing residents to live in fear.

“A group of moms I met with said they can’t let their kids go outside and play because of stray bullets,” he said. “We have people afraid to go shopping because of the carjackings.”

If elected, Dieruf has vowed to bring Jeffersontown Police Chief Rick Sanders into his administration “in some capacity.”

The West End TIF

The West End Opportunity Partnership was created by the Kentucky General Assembly last year to oversee new investment in nine west Louisville neighborhoods. 

Through a strategy called tax increment financing (TIF), the Partnership will collect almost all of the new tax revenue generated above the 2021 baseline, for the next 20 years. Its board, made up of community leaders, politicians and residents, will decide how to reinvest that tax revenue into the West End. Some residents have criticized the plan, expressing concerns about a lack of state oversight and its potential impact on renters

At a debate last month at the Portland Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, Dieruf said the Partnership’s focus should be creating generational wealth.

“[We] want to change, want to adjust to where it's your all's TIF, not somebody that's coming out of town, taking your property, taking advantage of you, raising rents to where you can't stay in the areas that you love so much," he said, according to a report from WDRB

Greenberg advocated for passage of the legislation creating the West End TIF in Frankfort and has previously been involved with other development projects, including the redevelopment of Whiskey Row on Main Street. He argued during the debate that the legislation needs to be amended to add protections against renters being priced out of their homes and giving residents a larger say in how the tax revenue gets spent. 

"Between the hundreds of millions of dollars that are available to the city under all of these federal programs, as well as the West End Opportunity Partnership, if it's done right, can make a powerful, positive impact that's led by residents of west Louisville," Greenberg said.

Two independent mayoral candidates who participated in the debate, Martina Nichols Kunnecke and Manetta Lemkheitir, also expressed concerns about the current plan for the West End Opportunity Partnership. Lemkheitir said a new development plan should be created for all of Louisville, while Kunnecke called for the West End TIF to be dissolved and likened it to corporate welfare.

Equitable access to city resources

Data from The Greater Louisville Project shows west Louisville neighborhoods such as Shawnee and Portland, along with a large swath of southwest Jefferson County, are considered “child care deserts.” That means there are far more children who could access early childhood education programs than there are slots available for them. 

Black and Hispanic children enrolled in Jefferson County Public Schools are also less likely than white students to be Kindergarten-ready, according to the Project’s analysis

As part of his campaign platform, Dieruf has promised to bring public and private preschool program operators together to discuss best practices. He’s also called on city leaders to allocate federal funds toward expanding kindergarten readiness programs

“As Louisville Mayor, I would invite all of these authorities on preschool to gather to share best practices and find ways to work together to ensure more young children are reached and provided with the learning opportunities they need to succeed in the long term,” he said.

Greenberg has vowed that, if elected, Louisville Metro will leverage national and philanthropic funds to ensure universal access to a pre-kindergarten program. 

He repeated this promise at a press conference last week, where he received the endorsement of pastor and activist Timothy Findley, Jr. Findley was formerly Greenberg’s rival in the Democratic primary and made universal pre-K a cornerstone of his campaign. 

Speaking specifically about the needs and concerns of Louisville’s Black residents, Greenberg said the city needs to work on improving the lives of and opportunities available to “every child in this city.”

“One thing we spoke at length about is the need for universal pre-K and what the city can and must do to ensure that every three- and four-year-old has an opportunity to succeed,” he said. 

Greenberg said he and Findley also discussed how federal COVID-19 relief could be used to expand programming at community centers, particularly those located in Black communities.

“We as a city must do better, we must do more to invest in community centers, like the Newburg Community Center, and the programming, so that every child has an opportunity to succeed,” he said. 

At that press conference, Greenberg added that his administration would try some “innovative things” to improve public transportation, including eliminating the fare for riding TARC buses. 

This story has been updated to clarify which endorsements Craig Greenberg received.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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