Mayor Fischer delivers hopeful State of the City address focused on steps toward ‘historic progress’ in 2021
Mayor Greg Fischer delivered his 11th annual State of the City address today, reflecting on the “enormous challenges” of the past year, “the potential in 2021 to make historic progress” – and Louisville’s plans to do just that.
Citing the challenges of a global pandemic and resulting economic downturn, as well as the need to advance racial equity and justice, reimagine public safety and reduce gun violence, the Mayor said, “We have all been tested in ways we’d never expected. And while sometimes those tests found us wanting, we persevere, we keep moving, keep learning, keep working to heal our city and move forward.”
The State of the City address is traditionally delivered to the Rotary Club of Louisville at the start of the new year, and during his tenure, Mayor Fischer has moved the event to various locations in the city, including last year at the new Republic Bank Foundation YMCA on West Broadway. Because of the pandemic, this year’s event was a virtual gathering.
The Mayor’s focus today was on using “the pain and frustration we’ve experienced as fuel to tackle what are, frankly, enormous challenges,” which include:
- Eliminating COVID-19,
- Rebuilding Louisville’s economy,
- Advancing the city’s goals of racial equity and justice
- And the related challenges of reimagining public safety and reducing gun violence.
“The best thing we can do and the most important choice we can make right now is to commit ourselves to finding our unique opportunities amidst the challenges, to believing in ourselves, in each other and in the possibilities of 2021 and beyond,” the Mayor said.
Citing the promise of a vaccine, the Mayor said, “Our goal is that next year’s State of the City will be delivered in person, over a shared Rotary lunch. And school buses will be taking children to in-person classes. Visitors will be filling our downtown hotels, restaurants, museums, and convention center. You’ll be going back to your favorite restaurant, seeing concerts and plays and ballgames with your friends and family – without masks and without worry.”
The city opened its first drive-thru vaccination site at Broadbent Arena last week, he said, and doubled the number of shots expected to be delivered in the first week and expects to do twice more again this week. “One of the most gratifying moments of this crisis has been seeing healthcare professionals get their shots. They have risked their lives and health, sacrificed themselves and their families to serve their patients, too many of whom never went home. Our healthcare heroes have earned our respect a million times over,” he said, urging residents to “get your shot on” when the vaccine is available to more people. “It can save your life, as well as your family, friends, and neighbors and help us rebuild and move forward as a city.”
In the meantime, he said, precautions are still necessary to avoid the spread of the virus. “We just passed 700 COVID deaths in our city. In the not distant future, we’ll reach 800,” he said. “So, for now, we have to keep wearing masks and social distancing and doing what we can individually and collectively to keep more lives from being needlessly lost.”
Acknowledging the pandemic’s economic toll – scores of jobs and businesses lost – the Mayor also cited bright spots for the city’s economic recovery, including in its core business clusters.
“Manufacturing is still strong. I’ve spoken with the leadership at Ford and GE Appliances. GE has just come off two very large appliance line expansions this past year, and both companies are optimistic about this year and the future,” he said, adding that logistics and e-commerce prospects are strong too, including at UPS Worldport, a major hub for vaccine distribution.
“Some companies in our tech sector have thrived in this challenging year, and many others in our Business Services cluster have adapted to remote working,” the Mayor said, adding that Louisville, already, home to more health and aging innovation company headquarters than anywhere in America, is poised for growth in the health/aging innovation sector, including Passport Health Plan by Molina Healthcare, which has hired almost 500 local employees and will be hiring more.
He acknowledged that tourism and hospitality industries were hit especially hard by the pandemic’s impact: “Locally, we have about 65,000 hospitality workers, about two-thirds of whom have been laid off or furloughed.” Noting many Metro initiatives, grant and loan funds set up to support those industries and their workers, the Mayor added, “Our tourism and hospitality and food and beverage sectors will recover. Bourbon has been thriving – good news for bourbon tourism, or Bourbonism – which is critical to those sectors. And we know once people are comfortable traveling again, we’ll be well-positioned to rebound because we’re a day’s drive from two-thirds of the U.S. population.”
The Mayor also outlined work to revitalize downtown, including increased LMPD visibility, a $1 million investment in the city’s Clean Collaborative Plan and work to address homelessness. And he announced a new team to identify and prioritize actions to speed the revitalization. “Our downtown was thriving and experiencing an amazing renaissance prior to the pandemic,” he said, and the new team, a partnership among businesses, institutions, arts, culture and other organizations, will develop new strategies and build on existing plans.
The Mayor also noted the impact of federal COVID Relief funding, including President-elect Joe Biden’s commitment to providing more assistance to state and local governments, “knowing how critical that is to keeping important city services going for our residents during this crisis.”
Advancing racial justice and equity
The Mayor also discussed “the painful reality of racism in America. That’s the pain that helped fuel the racial justice protests in our streets in 2020, just like it fueled the protests 50 years ago – and that will fuel more protests in the future unless we change course. In the past 10 years, Louisville Metro has made record investments to further the cause of racial equity, and it hasn’t been nearly enough. We have to do more.”
That work includes the city’s Build Back Better, Together initiative, launched to help the city recover from the economic downturn in a way that creates a more equitable and dynamic economy. And it’s the reason that in December, he signed an Executive Order declaring racism a public health crisis, while releasing a plan for Advancing Racial Equity that includes strategies to build Black employment and Black wealth; invest in affordable housing and homeownership programs; and support Black-owned businesses.
“These efforts help all of us by improving our tax base and increasing workforce skills and the spending power of our residents,” he said. “They make our city healthier, create more opportunities and dignity in work, produce safer neighborhoods, and send a message that our city is dedicated to compassion, opportunity, equity and justice.”
Mayor Fischer noted that one of the messages that resonated from the protests of last year was that achieving racial equity and justice demands reimagining public safety. “And when we talk about public safety in Louisville, we have to acknowledge two fundamental facts,” he said, “First, our police officers are doing incredibly challenging, dangerous and essential work to serve and protect the people of our city. And second, our police department, like other public and private institutions in our city and across America, must evolve in terms of its culture, its structure, recruiting, training, and practices in order to strengthen police-community legitimacy, address the need for racial justice and help us create a safer city.”
The Mayor outlined changes made to bring more transparency and accountability to LMPD, including Breonna’s Law, establishing a Civilian Review and Accountability Board and Office of Inspector General, and naming Erika Shields as LMPD’s new chief.
“One of the things about Erika Shields that impressed me was that she said this was the only chief position in America that she was interested in – because she sees an opportunity for LMPD to be the best police department in the country. And it was clear that she has the passion for police work, along with the skills and experience to achieve the reform we need. That’s why she was the unanimous choice of our diverse interview panel."
The Mayor said Shields, to be sworn in on Tuesday, will implement feedback from Hilliard Heintze’s top-to-bottom review of LMPD that he called for in order to find areas for improvement and models from around the country to help guide reform. Shields’ top priorities, he said, will be to build police-community trust and reduce gun violence. “We must all be appalled by our level of gun violence – 173 homicides in a single year – and commit to doing everything we can to reverse this heartbreaking and infuriating loss of human life and human potential,” he said.
“The bottom line in all of this,” the Mayor said, “is that every person deserves to be safe and healthy in their homes, their streets, their communities, their businesses. Just as they deserve equal access to opportunity. That is the vision that my team and I have been working to create for the last 10 years and that we will be working even harder to bring to life every day for the two years remaining in my term as your mayor.”
In closing, the Mayor reflected on the upcoming celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, noting that King would surely urge Louisville to “seize this historic opportunity with what he once described as the ‘fierce urgency of now.’”
“Let’s follow his example, so that in one year, two years, 10 years, 50 years, people will look back at this moment in our history and say that if 2020 was a low point, 2021 was a turning point,” he said. “Let’s commit ourselves to our neighbors, our city and our future so that the lesson our children and grandchildren learn about this period is about more than the tragedies we experienced, but the transformation we created in response, together.”