The Simons versus the Runyons explains how Indianapolis became the city Louisville should have been
You shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s possessions. You shouldn’t envy your neighbor’s successes.
Yet I can’t help but look at Indianapolis without thinking what could have been in Louisville had we had different (read, “half-way decent”) leadership.
Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl yesterday.
We get the Farm and Machinery Show.
They have the Colts and the Pacers.
We have the Bats or River Bats or whatever they are this week.
While Louisville still has a significant percentage of homes in foreclosure, there’s a building/renovation boom from the center of Indianapolis out to Carmel on the northern edge.
But what I find most galling is, they have retail in a downtown that looks like a mini-Chicago.
Even though the East Market Street renaissance is our biggest commercial success story, a mile away, Louisville’s downtown is still a shell of what it was 50 years ago.
Back in the 1950s, Indy was a cow town, and Louisville was the dominant city of the South, an industrial center on par with Cincinnati, and superior to Indy and Nashville.
How did we get so dramatically left behind?
We had every comparative advantage over Indianapolis from weather to transportation infrastructure, yet they grew and we did not.
Let us consider two families who’ve shaped the two towns — the Runyons of Louisville, and the Simons of Indianapolis.
In Louisville, there are few (thank God) with the outsized influence of Keith and Meme Sweets Runyon.
Meme Sweets Runyon is the founder and executive director of River Fields, the anti-progress group that’s managed to defeat every attempt to build the East End Ohio River bridge, a bridge that would lead to all the other crucial infrastructure upgrades Louisville so desperately needs.
Keith Runyon, editor of the Courier-Journal opinion page, led the opposition that ended up killing the mega hospital merger that would have – if structured properly – enhanced health care availability and quality across Kentucky.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who had the final say on the publicly owned University of Louisville Hospital merging with Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, was so cowed by Runyon and the CJ’s ultra-liberal editorial board he notified Runyon of his decision to nix the deal five hours before he notified U of L President Dr. James Ramsey, according to U of L insiders.
Meme Sweets Runyon doesn’t want a bridge, we don’t get a bridge.
Keith Runyon doesn’t want a hospital merger, we don’t get a merger.
The Runyons and other limousine liberals such as the Binghams have always held a moonlight and magnolias, antebellum view of what Louisville should be – a melange of Downton Abbey patrimony and a Henry Watterson plantation mentality. (Explains it all fact: Legendary CJ publisher Watterson fought alongside Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. True story.)
A vision of Louisville’s old mansions (the new “The Country Houses of Louisville” perfectly catches this sentimentality) stretching from Glenview out to Covered Bridge and Rose Island roads, surrounded by simple proletariat living in harmony, trusting the unfailing, if sometimes harsh, judgement of the aristocratic blue bloods running the city.
Now, let’s look at the Simons of Indianapolis.
The late Simon Property Group founders Mel and Herb Simon were schtetl Jews from New York.
Aggressive and forward thinking, the Simon brothers worked with Democratic and Republican mayors alike to transform Indy from “Indiana No Place,” to the host of the Super Bowl.
The Simons pushed Indy’s conservative leadership to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build Circle Centre mall downtown in an aggressive, one-sided deal that makes the Cordish Companies’ shakedowns of Jerry Abramson look like benevolent philanthropy.
That said, the transformation of downtown Indianapolis with retail and football stadiums led to the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhoods such as Broadripple, which is the size of 10 NuLus.
As an Anglo-Jew, I have a foot in each camp.
No Jew ever wants to go backward, for the obvious reasons.
No WASP ever can shake the fantasy of returning to the plantation, sitting around Monticello sipping Montrachet with Thomas Jefferson. And remember, Kentucky used to be part of Virginia.
No city can ever go forward when people with real power wish it to remain comfortably as it is. But remaining comfortably as we are isn’t a realistic option.
Just ask the people in Akron and Allentown.
Abramson, love him or hate him, had the courage to transform sleepy Standiford Field into a huge airfreight hub, the only thing that’s kept Louisville from going dark.
At this pivotal moment as we recover from the Great Recession, there is no Louisville counterbalance to the Runyons. Someone with the courage and clout to stand up to them and build the bridge, fix the teetering health care system and get this city unstuck in time.