(And lo, our notion of democracy is humbled by it…)
Some 200 people packed into a second floor conference room at Metro United Way’s Broadway campus to witness the latest mayoral debate in Louisville’s ongoing race to replace Lord Mayor Jerry Abramson.
Sponsored by Family & Children’s Place, Kentucky Youth Advocates and Metro United Way, the debate — which had at its crux the 2010 KYA Kids Count Data Book — saw candidate Hal Heiner (R), Greg Fischer (D) and Jackie Green (I) attempt to answer questions about the welfare of children across the state and in Jefferson County, but they mostly just spouted a bunch of platitudes and ignored answering the questions altogether.
Responding to the first question — is there a correlation between high unemployment and low high school graduation rates, and what can the mayor’s office do about it? — Green started off strong by being the only candidate to (1) mention something remotely like a concrete course of action and (B) address the city’s pitiful lack of affordable housing. As mayor, Green said he would seek to construct affordable housing units across the county to help negate the need for long-distance busing and “makes every community diverse and makes every school diverse.”
In response to the same question, Heiner mentioned that Louisville’s math and reading scores dragged Kentucky down, and advocated a nebulous “fresh start” in education in Louisville.
“As mayor, I hope to be directly involved in education, even though the mayor has no formal authority (to be involved in education),” said Heiner after pointing out the sobering fact that 6 of Kentucky’s 10 most failingest schools are located in Louisville. The Republican Metro Councilman recommended summer youth programs and reduced class sizes.
Fischer began with his first platitude of the debate: “The mayor should be the conscience for the community in terms of education,” the Democrat began. “My experience is, if you set high expectations for somebody, and you provide the structure and the discipline, people will succeed.”
Things began to further degenerate with the second question: What role should the mayor’s office play to ensure that government subsidies and work supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit (and others) reach the families who need them most?
Heiner spent his allotted 3 minutes discussing his desire to increase the availability of preventive health care without saying how he would really do it.
“Once we have that availability,” said Heiner, his focus will be on “the ability to make sure that programs like EITC and others are availble to familes that nee that critical support.”
He then talked about the Portland neigborhood’s Neighborhood Place, whose efforts he supports.
Fischer, in turn, spoke to being “proactive” about “financial literacy … so that folks that aren’t doing as well have a high degree of financial literacy” and therefore won’t be susceptible to usurious payday loan-lenders and the like.
Green ended the second round by beginning his trademark derailment of the issues at hand, instead favoring his platform-centric concern of world class public transportation, which would undoubtedly do more to fix Louisville’s economy than any other single measure outlined by the other candidates, but this was a forum about kids.
Moving on, here’s question number #3: Due to changes in funding at the state level for youth out-of-home care, what can the mayor do to increase outreach and provide housing for these “at risk” youth despite the increased financial burden on local governments?
In response, Fischer began with a joke — “All these questions have very easy solutions, don’t they?” — which elicited just enough tepid laughter to provide him ample time to tell people to turn to their churches and their relatives for support. He then suggested that “the more we can tie young people into the workplace,” the better, and ended his spiel with the weird slogan of “One city. One county. One family.”
Green tried (and pretty much failed) to incorporate issues of land development and public transportation to matters of municipal financial burden relative to foster care — but he did make an excellent (albeit unconnected) point: “We can no longer develop in the East End and ignore our existing neighborhoods,” he told the room.
Lastly, Heiner said that “In metro Government, youth have been a priority,” despite cuts to funding in those areas, and then launched into a Chopra-esque diatribe about children “understanding the bigger context of life” and for them to “develop their future story.”
Heiner did, however, highlight the excellent work of JB Atkinson Elementary, and said he would like to see the school used as a template for reform throughout the city.
Final question: In light of the departure of Metro Public Health & Wellness Director Dr. Adewale Troutman, what will the next mayor look for in a successor relative to addressing Jefferson County’s low child birth weight and access to healthy food?
“I’m sitting down with Yum! in the coming weeks,” said Green, who intends to develop a healthier diet plan for Louisville’s children. “I will ask them to re-evaulate their business plan that utilizes drive-thru windows. We’ve got cars sitting there emitting all sorts of pollutants, hurting our health.”
“And I would like that new director to walk that path with me,” he continued, before launching into another call for rethinking East End land-use development practices.
Heiner, himself an East End resident, offered his most cogent response of the forum despite ignoring the question.
“U of L, their Department of Pediatric Medicine, has expressed an interest in moving (into the Portland Marine Hospital),” Heiner said. “Once it’s renovated, U of L is ready to move in a portion of their pediatric medicine training right there in an area of high need in our community.”
Fischer began by praising Dr. Troutman, and then belabored that a new director should have experience with public-private partnerships. He also said that JCPS must hire more nurses, and that the lowly 16 nurses currently employed in the school system is woefully inadequate.
Finally, the candidates were somehow allowed to make closing statements, which lasted forever: Green called for (you guessed it) increased public transportation while lambasting his opponents for supporting unsustainable development, coal and petroleum dependencies, and the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project; Heiner called for a reliance upon “innovation” and preventative health care clinics throughout the city; but Fischer, hands-down, had the strangest, most Pollyanna-on-acid speech of the day, which I’ll offer as a closing remark on what was a largely wasted opportunity for the next mayor of Louisville to show vision in addressing the fundamentals of a broken inner-city policy.
This is some pretty heavy stuff we’re talking about here today, especially for the young folks in here. Don’t get discouraged! Louisville’s a great place; we’ve got some great neighborhoods; we’ve got some great strategic assets we can build on as well. We’ve got tremendous diversity … Our country has always faced challenges before, whether it be big wars, existing wars, economic downturns, and we’ve always come out of it. We come out of it through innovation. We come out of it through risk. We come out of it through entrepreneurship. One of you all is going to be the next Colonel Sanders, or the next David Jones, or whatever you might be…