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Why hasn't Louisville elected diverse mayors?

Joseph Gerth, from the Courier Journal, had an important question for me and a few others about why Louisville is one of 2 big cities to elect only white, male mayors. Indianapolis is the other, by the way. It's a question I had thought about before briefly entering the race in Fall 2021, and one that I came to be passionate about as I got closer to the city's politics.


There were good insights by others and I didn't pull any punches. I was very appreciative to be to able to speak my mind to support the other diverse candidates that

hung in and saw the primary through:


Carla Dearing, a business woman who announced she was running but dropped out shortly after entering the race, said she thinks Louisville hasn’t elected a woman, African American or Hispanic person as mayor in part because she said the city is too focused on doing things the old way.


“It starts with the fact that Louisville doesn’t have any swagger, it is very limited in its view of what’s possible,” she said.


“As a result, it’s the same people who are on the boards and on the commissions that have always been on the boards and the commissions,” she said. “It’s the same people in the pockets of power, it’s self-reinforcing,” and she said it doesn’t leave room to pursue things that are “exciting and different.”


But she said if people begin to embrace new ideas, she believes the city will elect women and people of color.


“Then, the talent and the creativity will break though, and the world will be wide open,” she said.


I'm also including the full text of the article below because the article is behind the CJ's paywall.


Here's why Louisville is one of 2 big cities to elect only white, male mayors

By Joseph Gerth

Louisville Courier Journal, published May 17, 2022, updated May 19, 2022


When the votes are counted Tuesday, the people of Louisville did exactly what they have always done.


They looked at all candidates for mayor. They considered their backgrounds. They thought about the policies they proposed. They pondered their qualifications. They examined their characters and ethics.


And then they nominated the non-Hispanic white man who in November they will decide is most suited for the job.


Only two of the 50 largest cities in the United States have never elected as mayor a woman, an African American or a Hispanic person.


Indianapolis is one of them.


Louisville is the other.


So, the question becomes: Is Louisville a racist, misogynist backwater? Or is there something else at play?


It's in part because of Jerry Abramson and his popularity.


At the time when other cities were maturing politically and beginning to elect people who didn’t look like they were minted at a factory owned by the Chamber of Commerce sometime around 1935, Abramson owned Louisville’s politics.


He was a successful, popular mayor who took a struggling city that had been hollowed out by urban renewal the previous two decades and breathed life into it.


Louisville Metro Hall, formerly the Jefferson County Courthouse.


Between 1985 and 2006, he ran in five of the six mayoral elections and destroyed the competition in all of them. The only time he didn’t run was in 1998 when he was prohibited by term limits.


He was instrumental in passing merger — something voters might never have approved if they didn't think Abramson would make a comeback in 2002.


And since Abramson won that first election — beating the late Darryl T. Owens, the first African American to mount a serious race for mayor of Louisville, by 26 percentage points — the seat has only been without an incumbent twice.


(Abramson ran like he was the incumbent in 2002, despite the fact that Dave Armstrong had been mayor the previous four years — and a pretty good one at that.)


The first time the seat came open was in 1998 when Mayor-for-Life Abramson couldn’t run again, and the second in 2010, when he stepped aside and instead ran for Kentucky’s lieutenant governor.


But first things first.


Louisville is a Democratic town and has been for ages. The last Republican mayor was elected in 1965.


And while Republicans have great hope that they can break the Democratic streak, it’s unlikely considering the damage Republicans like Donald Trump and Matt Bevin have done to the GOP brand in recent years.


But we will give Republicans credit: They nominated a woman in 2018 and an African American in 1998. That’s something the Democrats have never done.


But being that savvy politicians often don’t challenge incumbents in primaries, Democrats really haven’t had a lot of opportunities in the last 40 years to select a mayor who is not a white man.


Of the previous nine elections, six of the Democratic primaries were dominated by incumbents (again, I’m counting Abramson’s 2002 race as a run by an incumbent) with Abramson winning in 1985, 1989, 1994, 2002 and 2006 and with Greg Fischer winning in 2010, 2014 and 2018.


Of the 30 biggest cities, of which Louisville ranks 29th, 19 of them have had Black mayors, including Boston, Columbus and Denver.


Before this year there have been only two African American Democrats who have even run serious campaigns, and never has a Democratic woman run a serious race for mayor of Louisville before now.


David Tandy, the former Metro Council member who finished second to Fischer in 2010 and raised $400,000 in that effort said it’s just hard for anyone to compete against a candidate who has the resources of the city’s wealthiest people behind them.


“I don’t think it is a racist city,” Tandy said. “But when it comes down to elections, the access to resources is important.”


For instance, he noted that Craig Greenberg, who won Democratic mayoral primary, raised $1.4 million for his own campaign and had the backing of a political action committee funded by Greenberg’s father and the family of Christy Brown, the matriarch of the family that built the Brown-Forman alcoholic beverage empire.


It was far and away more than all the other candidates combined had at their disposal.

It also helps to be independently wealthy and to be able to sink hundreds of thousands — if not a million — of your own money into a race, he said.


“That’s what it boils down to: Do you have enough money?”


Dewey Clayton, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, said the city-county merger, which began in 2003, may have also played a role in keeping the mayor’s office all-white because it added more white voters in suburban Jefferson County to the electorate than Black voters.


“Darryl Owens was vehemently opposed (to the merger) because he thought one of the off-shoots of merger was the dilution of the African American vote,” he said.


And Clayton said Metro Council President David James may have had a shot at becoming the city’s first Black mayor if health issues didn’t force him to withdraw.


This year, there are three African Americans running on the Democratic side, but they have all had trouble raising money.


On her last campaign finance report, Shameka Parrish-Wright reported raising more than $68,000 while the Rev. Tim Findley reported raising more than $50,000. Greenberg, on the other hand, has raised more than $1.4 million and has spent more than all the other candidates in the race combined.


Parrish-Wright is the only woman running in either party.


Carla Dearing, a business woman who announced she was running but dropped out shortly after entering the race, said she thinks Louisville hasn’t elected a woman, African American or Hispanic person as mayor in part because she said the city is too focused on doing things the old way.


“It starts with the fact that Louisville doesn’t have any swagger, it is very limited in its view of what’s possible,” she said.


“As a result, it’s the same people who are on the boards and on the commissions that have always been on the boards and the commissions,” she said. “It’s the same people in the pockets of power, it’s self-reinforcing,” and she said it doesn’t leave room to pursue things that are “exciting and different.”


But she said if people begin to embrace new ideas, she believes the city will elect women and people of color.


“Then, the talent and the creativity will break though, and the world will be wide open,” she said.


Joseph Gerth can be reached at 502-582-4702 or by email at jgerth@courierjournal.com.



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