Mayor Greg Fischer and Councilwoman Angela Leet in the League of Women Voters debate Tuesday night | Screenshot from WAVE3-News

The second and final televised mayoral debate between two-term incumbent Greg Fischer and Councilwoman Angela Leet largely mirrored the themes of the first debate last month, with Leet aggressively condemning the mayor’s failure to stem rising violent crime in his second term, while Fischer played defense and stuck to his script of advocating the continuation of Louisville’s economic success.

Leet, who in the first debate referred to “children who step over body bags when they get off the bus,” stepped up the rhetoric against Fischer’s performance even further, saying that Louisville is on the verge of becoming a hellscape of poverty, overdoses and murder.

“We have the homelessness of San Francisco, the violence of Chicago, and we are one employer away from becoming the next Detroit,” said Leet. “It’s time for a change.”

Leet noted that murders in Louisville have doubled since Fischer’s first year in office in 2011, as Jefferson County’s 122 criminal homicides in 2016 was a record high, with the 110 in the following year coming in second.

Chicago had 650 homicides in 2017, with a murder rate of 24 per 100,000 population, while Louisville’s countywide rate was a distant 14.3 last year.

Detroit’s unemployment spiked to a high of 28 percent during the Great Recession, but has steadily fallen since then and reached 7.8 percent this spring. The unemployment rate in Jefferson County was just 3.9 percent in August.

Asked about the murder of 7-year old Dequante Hobbs last year and the safety of children in west Louisville, Fischer touted the long-term violence reduction strategies of his administration and the new joint federal task force targeting violent gangs, saying that the reduction in crime so far this year shows that they are working.

“Violent crime is down 9 percent, overall crime is down 5 percent, homicides are down 22 percent in our city,” said Fischer. “The responsibility of a mayor is to have a great plan, a great team, improve it and get the results like we’re seeing right now.”

Fischer led off the debate by praising the current “economic renaissance” of Louisville, with “$13 billion of investment all over Louisville, 80,000 new jobs, 2,700 new businesses, rising wages and an unemployment rate that’s now around 4 percent.”

When the candidates were asked to name their opponent’s biggest shortcoming, Leet honed in on those economic development numbers cited by Fischer, calling them exaggerations, as his new jobs figure is based on a 15-county area around Louisville and the $13 billion figure includes “bridges that have already been built” and “road paving that has already happened.”

Fischer, who largely avoided criticizing Leet in both debates, declined to indulge in the same question, adding that “people are sick and tired of negative campaigns, of exaggerations about what’s taking place.”

“I appreciate the councilwoman running for office, and I’m not going to get down into the gutter,” said Fischer. “People are sick are tired of it and I hope there can be a change in our country to a culture of civility and compassion so that we can take care of each other in a better way.”

Transparency and economic development

Asked how he would increase transparency when it comes to incentives for economic development, Fischer said “there’s extraordinary transparency in all of the economic development deals we do,” saying that such deals must be approved by either Metro Council or the state.

Fischer has taken heat for keeping secret the names of prospective business guests entertained at the Kentucky Derby and the incentive package offered to Amazon to locate its new headquarters in Louisville, but countered that such criticism lacks “common sense” and “demonstrates a lack of awareness for basic business practices and sales practices,” jeopardizing the loss of jobs to other peer cities.

“To the people who say we should be exposing our business prospects that are coming to town, that want to locate their businesses here and grow their businesses, I can tell you one thing,” said Fischer. “Nashville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis would say ‘thank you very much.’ ”

Leet called such reasoning “disingenuous” and “laughable,” disagreeing with any notion that “the only way we can attract businesses to our community is to entertain them in secret at a very public event called The Derby,” adding that such a ticket “should be a reward, not an incentive.”

Public schools

Asked about the state of Jefferson County Public Schools, Leet spoke of her support for “local control” of the district, though Fischer countered that “I opposed the state takeover of our schools immediately, unlike my opponent here.”

Fischer added that “we all need to get behind JCPS” and help disadvantaged children as a community, as “it’s easy to use (the district) as a punching bag.”

Abortion

Asked what the mayor’s role is when it comes to abortion — noting the city hosts the last remaining clinic in the state that performs the procedure — Fischer said the mayor “should do everything possible to empower women to have reproductive health care,” which he called “a basic right.”

The mayor criticized Gov. Matt Bevin’s effort to close the last abortion clinic in Louisville, saying this “would only result in more dangerous conditions for women.”

Leet answered that she was adopted and is personally “pro life,” though she believed that there should be “exceptions to that,” which she did not specify. She went on to add that “we need to protect and provide a safe place for women, where they can walk through their neighborhood and not be accosted because somebody thinks they’re out prostituting, trying to get the next drug fix.”

Independent candidates

Five independent candidates for mayor participated in their own forum after the one with Fischer and Leet concluded.

Bike store owner and environmental activist Jackie Green criticized the leadership and transparency of Fischer, saying that his administration should be more proactive in reducing the city’s carbon footprint and tackling climate change.

Chris Thieneman continued his criticism of the mayor for standing by LMPD Chief Steve Conrad in the wake of the Youth Explorer scandal, accusing the two of covering up the sexual abuse of women and children by officers.

Sean Vandevander advocated his platform of fully legalizing cannabis in Louisville, arguing that it would both help tackle the city’s opioid crisis and bring in a large stream of new tax revenue

The mayoral forums were organized by the League of Women Voters of Louisville and held at the headquarters of Louisville Public Media, with the first one aired live on WAVE-3 News and WFPL, and the second forum streamed online.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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