Editor’s note: Brian Tucker, who blogs at The Valley Report, contributed to this post.

Greg Fischer and Hal Heiner
Greg Fischer and Hal Heiner

This may have been the windiest, most Machiavellian mayoral race since 1985, the year Jerry Abramson and Dave Armstrong started rotating in and out of Louisville’s top executive branch job.

The fun parts:

  • Independent Jackie Green, the bicycle guy, leaves the race and gives his 12 voters to Democrat Greg Fischer, apparently for an assurance that mass transit will come ahead of the bridges, and existing neighborhoods ahead of those “Poodles of Stone Gardens,” East End-style developments.

We’ll never know.

  • Democrat Tyler Allen hands over a far more substantial block of votes to Republican Heiner in a traitorous move that shows just how much Allen hates Fischer. Or what a sweet deal Heiner offered for his support.

We’ll never know.

But after 14 months and an estimated $4 million dollars in advertising combined, what the hell did Fischer and Heiner really say?

The answer is, “Quite a  bit,” if you wade through countless media accounts and pious position statements to get to the distilled messages.

Shockingly, both candidates stand four-square for good neighborhoods and job creation. Honest, transparent government and strong leadership. It’s all right there in their campaign materials if you don’t die of boredom from the kind of tautology that H. L. Mencken once described as “Babbittry and boosterism.”

Yet, Louisville is lucky in that we don’t have to contend with crime, (blatant) corruption and other crises before we can start to formulate a plan to catch up to Indianapolis.

With that in mind, we tried to isolate the issues with broad public interest, though in no particular order.

So, here goes.

South Louisville and Southwest Louisville

The campaigns of Fischer and Heiner have paid considerable lip service to the oft-maligned South End, serving up talking points that directly address problems in the area, and promising “One Louisville.” Being brought into the fold, however, doesn’t seem to be what residents want.

For example, when Scott Stirling, a 42-year-old, life-long South-Ender, talks about a unified Louisville, he says, “Just stop trying to make me go downtown for everything.”

To his credit, Fischer’s campaign taken a position that downtown is fine, and that Louisville leadership needs to look at the southwestern and western areas of the county. In those neighborhoods, residents are on slow burn over access to retail and other issues after the Highlands/Crescent Hills-orientation of the Abramson years.

But aside from specifics such as library construction (both candidates) and traffic signal timing on Dixie (Heiner), neither candidate has addressed/exploited the “outsider” mentality that exists in the south and southwest, nor constructed any plans to reverse that thinking.

Downtown

Despite his campaign message that downtown is doing just fine, thank you very much, Fischer would create incentives for developers of newly constructed affordable housing (based on a New York City program from the 1970s) “that will amplify organic growth. The program has the potential to result in thousands of new affordable downtown units over the course of my term as Mayor.  Then, retail follows rooftops.  I am confident that by 2015, downtown residents will be able to buy groceries, catch a movie – even shop in a department store – right in their own neighborhood. “ (This from an interview in the Highlander newsletter.)

Heiner wants to develop a “Magnificent Mile” downtown. “Supporting our arts community will give downtown residents reasons to get out and about. Making Louisville one of the alternative energy research centers of the nation will bring creative and educated professionals to Louisville.”

Community Development

Fischer said he’d create “Bull’s Eyes,” targeted incentive zones to bring new restaurants and retail to historical commercial centers. “The city will offer no-interest and forgivable loans to business and property owners to encourage investments.”

Which, by the way, we already have in Louisville Metropolitan Business Development Corporation, or METCO, loans, which are low-interest and often forgivable.

Local business owners, not those mean old out-of-towners, will get first priority for this new initiative, Fischer said: “There is no reason Dixie and Preston highways can’t support some of the same businesses that make Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenue so attractive. It is time to Keep Louisville Weird outside the Watterson Expressway, too.”

Heiner: Finish Fourth Street from the Brown Hotel to the Belvedere, “but do it in a way so that local retailers can get some discounted lease rates in those developments. Let’s not only have our locals keeping Louisville weird. Let’s also introduce our distinctiveness to the hundreds of thousands that pass through town – leaving a portion of their spending money in our local retailers’ shops after they’ve gone home.”

Good idea, except former Mayor Armstrong tried this and got nowhere because so many absentee, indifferent landlords own some of the most strategic buildings along Fourth Street.

Schools

For the record, mayors have zero authority over the Jefferson County Public School System. But economic-development executive have told Insider Louisville that they’re worried Jefferson County could go the way of an Atlanta or Seattle and turn into a mostly poor and minority public system surrounded by private systems for wealthy elites.

An idea Heiner seems down with.

Heiner ran a television ad saying it’s “time to end the Jefferson County Public School’s failed student assignment plan.”

His reasoning: “Achieving true diversity doesn’t come from kids leaving before breakfast and getting home after dinner.” Again for the record, Heiner has an adopted African-American daughter, which is relevant because the students bused the longest and farthest in Jefferson County are African-Americans.

In September, Heiner latched onto three  standard Republican talking points: Give “merit pay” to the “best teachers willing to teach in failing” schools; reduce class sizes (by deporting kids to Southern Indiana?) and increase magnet programs in schools.

And go back to 1975 and re-segregate schools.

Fischer launched a spot after Heiner’s move saying that Jefferson County should “fix” the student assignment plan. He just hasn’t said how. And since it’s not the mayor’s to fix, it probably doesn’t matter.

Libraries

Both Heiner and Fischer say they’ll build new regional library in southwest Jefferson County by the end of their first four-year term. Nothing about how they’ll pay for it. But for the record, Heiner led the fight in 2007 against a tax to fund the public libraries.

Bridges

Heiner’s and Fischer’s positions on the Ohio River Bridges Project are similar.

Both say they support the $4.1 billion plan, though differ on scenarios in which the project would be split into phases. Both say they want construction on the East End Bridge to start in ASAP.

Heiner wants to cap the toll at $1, and favors cutting costs with a redesign of Spaghetti Junction less ambitious than currently proposed.

Fischer has pretty much dodged how large a toll he’d support to get the bridges built, but says the $3 toll discussed by the Bridges Authority is too high. Fischer also has mentioned sliding toll rates.

Energy

Heiner wants to “bring an energy research focus” to Louisville through increased investment in the University of Louisville at its Center for Renewable Energy Research and Environmental Stewardship.

Fischer: “Explore new energy alternatives, ranging from low-impact hydroelectric power from the Ohio River to the expanded use of methane from the Waste Management-Outer Loop Landfill as a fuel source.” (From his campaign website.)

In 2008, Valley Report asked Mayor Abramson, Councilman Doug Hawkins, Waste Management, LG&E and Ford Motor (on separate occasions) to study the feasibility of  – or to push for – capturing methane gas for power generation at the Outer Loop landfill but received no response.

Jobs

Heiner hinted to Phillip Bailey at LEO that he’d ditch current economic development policy that  requires companies getting tax incentives to pay their workers above a certain level.

“Being one of the few communities in the country with a law that says if we give you an incentive at a certain (funding) level … (then we mandate) the rates you have to pay (your workers). Standing out in that regard was certainly a step that makes Louisville less attractive for new jobs … In 2007, we lost 1,500 jobs that would have paid an average of nearly $55,000 per job. We lost an $80 million payroll when by some accounts companies had picked Louisville first.”

Fischer is ambitious while being ambiguous. One idea that stands out on his campaign website is  proposal for an “Office of Innovation to nurture ideas that have the potential to create significant numbers of jobs.” Sounds good. How would it work?

Favorite Music

Fischer likes Bob Marley and the Wailers. (From his MySpace profile.)

Heiner likes the Rolling Stones and the Eagles. (From his Facebook profile.)

MUST READ to understand their positions

“The Bar Exam: An Entrepreneur, an Environmentalist and an Engineer are Running to Serve the City They Love,” a complete interview in “The Highlander.” See it here.

Terry Boyd

Terry Boyd

Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.