Mayor Fischer's 2022 State of the City remarks

February 10, 2022

Mayor Fischer delivered his 2022 State of the City remarks on Thursday, February 10, 2022 at the Kentucky International Convention Center. Below are his prepared remarks. 

 

Thank you. 

I am honored to be with you to deliver my final State of the City address. 

Thanks to David Beck for hosting us at the beautiful Kentucky International Convention Center, which we worked hand-in-hand with the State and Louisville Tourism to invest $207 million to grow our convention and tourism success.

Thanks to the Rotary Club for hosting this event, and showing what true service is – through promise scholarships, a mentoring program, and your wisdom in choosing Jean West as the first Black Louisvillian to lead this organization. 

Thanks also for your righteous recognition of Ben Richmond, a legendary advocate for a justice, a fighter for civil and human rights, and a dear friend. 

I want to thank my family for always standing by me, and I am happy to be joined today by my wife Alex, son George, parents Mary Lee and George and sister Lynn. 

From family I learned foundational lessons:

From my mother, the importance of always helping others.

From my father, to treat everyone equitably and always be positive.

From my wife and her family, the passion of immigrants to pursue the American dream.

From my children, my beautiful granddaughter and grandchildren to be, the optimism that anything is possible. 

And from my sister, determination and unconditional support throughout life.

Family!

The first time I spoke to you as mayor….. 11 years ago, I outlined three city values to guide our work – lifelong learning, health, and compassion – and I spoke of one city, one community…. one family.

Because we are the city of Thomas Merton’s epiphany, each of us shining like the sun, belonging to each other, our individual success dependent on our collective success.

And so it is with cities. We’re in this together…. And together, we have done so, so much. 

 

 

 

 

First, the city looks different from when I took office. 

You can start here, and look outside. Since 2014, $21 billion has been invested in our built environment.

That includes:

A new, vibrant walking bridge; and two new bridges with 32 million vehicle crossings last year - their very existence is emblematic of our progress after the project had stalled for 40 years.

Our city footprint now includes a world-class soccer stadium, an energized Whiskey Row, and over 100 new hotels – 15 of them downtown.

By the end of my term, our Public Works team will have repaved 2,000 miles of roads, 88 miles of bike- and scooter-related lanes and 350,000 feet of ADA-compliant sidewalks. 

The long-awaited transformation of Dixie Highway is finished.

Colonial Gardens has been restored as the go-to place for business lunches, date nights and family meals by Iroquois Park.

And, recognizing that libraries are central to lifelong learning and community connection, we built three new regional libraries, a new branch in Middletown, and renovated branches in St. Matthews, Iroquois, Bon Air, Shawnee and Shively.

We conducted the country’s first-ever, urban heat island study, and helped launch Trees Louisville, which is well on its way to creating 45 percent tree canopy coverage by 2050.

Our parks system has seen wonderful growth. Since 2011:

We’ve increased the Louisville Loop by 50%;

Added a public boat ramp in Shawnee Park;

Built or modernized 12 spraygrounds;

Built 26 new playgrounds;

Remodeled the Iroquois Overlook. 

Racial equity has been a driver of our work since Day One. That’s why, well before many other cities, we took down racially offensive statues – a Confederate statue, the Castleman statue, and the Prentice statue – because if a statue is not welcome in all neighborhoods, it should not stand in any public place of honor.

That equity lens is also why over $1.2 billion of new capital investment has been made in west Louisville.

My team won a $29 million federal grant, which we’ve leveraged to create over $250 million to completely redevelop the Beecher Terrace area.

The Russell Place of Promise project models how to regenerate neighborhoods without displacing residents, by gathering input at 200 community meetings, and it is powered by the stalwart determination of people like Jackie Floyd.

We now have the new Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Center, developed by the Louisville Urban League. Metro donated the land and was the lead investor, providing the first $10 million.

We contributed a separate $10 million as the lead investor for the West End Opportunity Partnership.

And soon we will break ground on Waterfront Phase 4, a 22-acre expansion connecting downtown and west Louisville along our waterfront.

All of this work grows the character of our neighborhoods, including those that have seen dramatic growth since I took office – like Nulu, Butchertown, Russell, Shelby Park, Beechmont, Fern Creek, and others.

And the changes to our neighborhoods haven’t just been bridges, libraries, roads…..

Think about what the lack of a home does to someone trying to hold down a job, get kids ready for school….stay safe from COVID. Home is central to every family, and the lack of one is an unconscionable obstacle.

That’s why we’ve invested record amounts in affordable housing - $106 million since 2014, creating or preserving 5,000 units.   

Metro Council was a true partner, none more so than their champion in this work – Bill Hollander.   

I also appreciate the Rotary for your groundbreaking work to improve access to capital for first-time homebuyers in west Louisville, with a goal of raising $5 million for this important effort. 

To address the historic injustice of redlining, by the end of this year, we will have helped 500  low-income residents build wealth through the Down Payment Assistance Program, and almost 3,000 existing homeowners make critical repairs so they can maintain homeownership.

We used $96 milion in federal and state COVID relief funds for eviction prevention, and were recognized by the White House as among the best in the nation to do so.

We’re also using $40 million from the American Rescue Plan to mitigate homelessness.

And, to help address vacant and abandoned properties, we’ve gotten six state laws changed, sold 675 properties, foreclosed on more than 1,000, and demolished 954 vacant and abandoned structures.

We did all the aforementioned work on our built environment, on housing, on the very architecture we see around us, because, as Nigerian architect Mariam Kamara said, “Architecture is the stage on which we live our lives.”

And that’s what this is all about. Investing in the stage is important, but investing in the people on the stage is even more critical. 

So we got to work.

Remember how good it felt to earn your own money from your first job, have cash in your pocket?

When I took office, the federal government had just dropped funding for youth summer job programs.

So we created Summerworks. In our first year we employed 200 kids, and over its lifetime,  SummerWorks has placed 23,000 youth in summer jobs with 240 employers.

 

 

The data shows SummerWorks youth are more likely to graduate high school, go to college and find employment.

We also created the Cultural Pass to close the opportunity gap and stop summer learning melt by bringing children to places of learning, culture and stimulation.

Once upon a time, a young girl visited an exhibit about the human body. It inspired her, and she said, “I want to be a doctor.” And she became Dr. Alex Gerassimides … and my wife.

That museum changed her life – and mine  – and the 260,000 Cultural Passes we have distributed have changed countless lives – inspiring future scientists, future artists, and more future doctors.

We also worked with JCPS and the University of Virginia to launch the groundbreaking Compassionate Schools Project. 45 schools are teaching 20,000 students to have empathy, love and compassion for their fellow human beings and accelerate their learning.

When I took office, community partners were working to increase the number of residents with college degrees. 55,000 Degrees was a great success, seeing a 22% increase in degree attainment. But far too many cannot afford higher education, and we know that post-secondary education is the number one disrupter of poverty.

So our community created Evolve502….. and a college promise scholarship for JCPS graduates.

I decided to run for a third term in large part to make the scholarship a reality. Since then, Evolve502 has raised $22 million, including $3 million from Metro. With that, there is enough scholarship funding for all current JCPS 8th to 12th graders. 

 

 

I urge all of you to contribute so that we can create more promise scholars, like the Rotary has for Western and Iroquois High School students.

Code Louisville is another example of our commitment to lifelong learning, placing 680 graduates into higher-paying tech jobs.

We’ve accelerated that mission with the Future of Work initiative – building equitable pathways into data economy jobs in Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and data science. 

Since small businesses are the backbone of any city’s economy, we’ve made $55M in loans and grants to over 1,200 businesses to help them prosper and for some to simply survive through the pandemic.

Every great city must have a year-round hospitality and tourism attraction.

Before I was mayor I wondered why we didn’t promote our bourbon and local food scene more.

So, with partners across the community we created Bourbonism – with Louisville as the trailhead fueled by $262 million of investments in 10 new distillery and bourbon experiences, and wonderful culinary additions.

 

 

Bourbonism, with its four key ingredients – Bourbon, Hospitality, Distillery Experiences and Local Food – is now a global attraction, and will drive our hospitality industry for years to come, along with nationally known festivals, like WorldFest, Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, and Bourbon and Beyond!

Also, Louisville is now known as a soccer city, with LouCity FC and Racing Louisville FC, the professional teams based at the beautiful Lynn Family Stadium, which last year hosted both the NWSL Championship and the Women’s Cup, a premiere international sports event.  

I was determined to do everything needed to bring pro soccer here, as the biggest sport in the world and, in the process, dramatically improve the city’s front door.

Remember the hideous view along I-64 of the brownfield filled with rusting storage tanks and junked cars? 

We resolved to transform that embarrassing space into something spectacular – and with the leadership of the great ownership group of Louisville Soccer Holdings, my team and countless others, our city has created a burgeoning soccer district and was recently named one of WalletHub’s best soccer cities in America.

And, a little breaking news – The Women’s Cup international tournament is coming back this August!

Over the past 11 years, we’ve also made policy and program changes to lift up our people.

We celebrated those who put their lives on the line by bringing back the Veterans Day Parade, establishing the Week of Valor, and becoming among the first cities to meet President Obama’s challenge to end veterans’ homelessness.  

We had a huge turnaround at Metro Animal Services, transforming an outdated facility with an abysmal 68 percent live-release rate into a modern facility with a live-release rate of 95 percent.

We’ve cemented our reputation as the leader in the country’s aging and health innovation industry, and now have more companies in this space than anywhere else in the nation.

And as the home of the UPS hub and with an intentional emphasis on logistics, we now have the 5th busiest cargo airport in the world, which played a critical role in vaccination distribution.

From the start of this administration, we created a framework for our city value of compassion, and each year Give a Day has brought more volunteers, and more acts of compassion.  Overall, Give A Day has meant an astounding 1.3 million acts of compassion.

 

 

 

 

This commitment to compassion led to the historic 2013 visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and a remarkable partnership that continues.

We have been blessed with many partners who inspire, challenge and energize us. No one has done that more than the Champ. 

Muhammad Ali was born and raised in the Parkland neighborhood before he became the three-time heavyweight champ, civil rights and religious freedom advocate, global humanitarian and United Nations Messenger of Peace.

The week of his funeral, my staff, the Ali Center, and countless Louisvillians responded by paying tribute to Ali’s immeasurable accomplishments. We were determined to send him off with the dignity and class he deserved.

With the eyes of the world upon us, an extraordinary weeklong outpouring of love and joy celebrated his life and legacy, and made me so deeply grateful to be your Mayor.

Knowing that his story will motivate countless generations, we created a film about that week, the City of Ali, which just premiered on PBS and inspired a curriculum for schoolchildren.

And, so that everyone who lands in Louisville is inspired by Muhammad, we renamed our airport after the greatest of all time.

The Champ would be proud of the work we have undertaken to lift up every Louisvillian. That includes:

20,000 more Louisvillians now living above the poverty line.

Plus, 20,000 families have worked their way into the middle class.

Our foreign-born population has increased by 40 percent since 2010. They’re achievers, with higher rates of graduate and professional degrees and entrepreneurship. This dynamic community is absolutely essential for Louisville to prosper economically and culturally.

For Metro families, we partnered with Metro Council to begin providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave for city employees who are new moms and dads. 

Out of many, one Louisville, one family …

100 percent, seven years in a row … That is the perfect score we’ve received from the Human Rights Campaign for our work for and with the LGBTQ community.

We’ve done all this work, and so much more, thanks to the work of community partners. All of us.

I want to thank the Metro Council for their partnership.

And, I want to thank my incredible and tireless team at Metro Government.

Led by the incomparable Deputy Mayor Ellen Hesen, our team has given its heart and soul to this city and its people.   

They’ve done this by:

focusing on our citizens and delivering excellent services;

applying data to improve and innovate;

doggedly addressing inequities;

growing our economy; and

fearlessly and without hesitation acknowledging and addressing performance weaknesses.

Louisville has one of the most celebrated city governments in the nation, and the team’s hard work was a big part of why I was elected by the nation’s mayors to lead the U.S. Conference of Mayors, during one of the most difficult times for cities in recent history.

It is also why last year Louisville was named one of only two cities to ever achieve the coveted What Works Cities platinum recognition – the standard for data-based decisions and operational excellence.

Quite simply, no mayor could ask for a stronger, smarter, more compassionate team than the Chiefs, directors and staff at Metro Government.  You have my never-ending appreciation.

And a special shout out for our public safety teams – Police, Fire, Corrections, EMS and EMA.

So for all those Metro employees watching and for those here, please stand and be recognized.   

It is obvious I am proud and grateful for what has been accomplished since I became your Mayor. 

But I also say that mayors are in the reality business, so there are always challenges to face:

A stubborn pandemic that’s taken too many lives;

A level of gun violence that’s unacceptable here and all across our nation;

A necessary re-imagining of public safety; and

Too many people still left out of opportunities by centuries of systemic racism.

And so, we fight on.

We start by tackling public safety challenges.

Recognizing that police cannot arrest our way to a safer city, we created a whole-of-government approach.  Our 6-pillar strategy includes:

Programs to intervene and prevent violence, aided by a quadrupling of funding approved by Metro Council. 

Increased incentives and salaries to attract and retain employees for public safety agencies, which are seeing shortages locally and nationwide.

We know that critical to our residents being safe is having trust in law enforcement. That’s why we:

Undertook an independent, top-to-bottom review of our police department after the 2020 civil unrest, resulting in over 100 recommendations currently being implemented;

Hired a new reform-minded Police Chief, Erika Shields;

Instituted a Civilian Review and Accountability Board and hired our first Inspector General to ensure greater police oversight;

And, we are working closely with the Department of Justice to identify and implement best practices for accountability and community trust.

Policing is at a critical inflection point locally and in America.

Our police officers perform an incredibly difficult job, and, for their work under the most challenging and grueling circumstances, especially these past two years – thank you again for your devotion to our city.

Great teams can appreciate each other and also recognize that that there is unfinished work. Our nation cannot ignore a history of sometimes unconstitutional, unequal policing, with disproportionate impact on communities of color.

That history, and the tragic, unacceptable deaths of George Floyd,Ahmaud Arbery and our own Breonna Taylor, underline the urgent need for improvement and reform. 

So did those who turned out in 2020 to protest racial injustice. For me, I felt immense grief over the loss of life, and frustration that my lifelong commitments to compassion and racial equity had come up short.

But I am grateful to those protesters, change agents that fueled action in our city. 

They were right to demand more, demand better, demand faster.  And I am grateful to be part of a community that holds its leader accountable to the idea of a beautiful human value like compassion.

Tragically we cannot bring Breonna Taylor back. But in the wake of her death, the protests and the introspections they caused accelerated our action and work, and made our city stronger.

Work to create justice will never be complete, but we must honor the pain of 2020 by creating a more just Louisville … and in so doing, become a model for American cities.

It’s an understatement to say that COVID has been a challenge. But when it struck in 2020, I had confidence in our public health team and our residents to beat back the pandemic with every resource we had. 

And we have: our public health team launched LouVax with over 1,000 volunteers, spread knowledge about the dastardly virus throughout the community, and vaccines and testing are now readily available.

Today 74 percent of us, or about 560,000 people, have received at least the first dose of the vaccine; 64 percent are fully vaccinated.  

My deep appreciation goes to our COVID Vaccine Task Force, co-chaired by Bill Altman, a great citizen who stepped up and asked, ‘How can I help?’  I am grateful for his service, and that of the entire Task Force and Public Health team.

We have learned to remain humble to the virus, but data indicates that better days should be ahead.

Data also shows our incredible economic momentum recovering from the recession:

We’ve recovered 99.5% of the jobs lost, compared to 85% nationally.

Our unemployment rate is currently at 3%, lower than when COVID hit, and nearly a full point lower than the national rate.

Since I took office, Louisville has added more than 80,000 private sector jobs.

Our wage growth, adjusted for the cost of living, increased 13.1 percent 

And we just had a record January, adding almost 800 jobs and $170 million in investment.

So our collective hard work is paying off, and our continued efforts keep us moving forward - together. 

City government will continue long after me, but you have my commitment that I will be running through the finish line in this, my final year in office.

As the Champ said, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”

We will make each of the remaining days count!  

In the coming months alone:

More Louisvillians will return to the office, pumping more dollars into our small businesses and adding even more vibrancy to streets and neighborhoods.

Downtown businesses are growing, with 30 retail openings in 2021 compared to 17 closings.

We will launch a universal basic income pilot to counter poverty and promote financial stability and opportunity.

We will open the new Safe Outdoor Space to further address homelessness. 

We will join a digital inclusion program that distributes refurbished laptops and tablets to close the digital divide.

We will launch a program to increase the use of solar installations to expand our sustainability efforts.

Kids and officers will be enjoying the new Police Activities League to create an environment of trust and respect.

We are expanding Lean Into Louisville with courageous conversations on discrimination and hate, to unify our city around fairness, opportunity and compassion.

$400 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding will spur catalytic projects in housing, public safety, workforce, small business, public health and stronger neighborhoods.

And, we stand ready to receive or compete for hundreds of millions of dollars from the new federal infrastructure law – for roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, high-speed internet,  and electrical vehicle infrastructure.

I leave every State of the City excited about the incredible work ahead of us, none more so than this, my final year.

Cities are living, growing families - which means the work is never finished.

My team and our residents have been resolute in creating a better Louisville. Our city has undergone significant change from when my administration started eleven years ago.

And I am very pleased to report that the state of our city is strong.

Together, we have achieved remarkable accomplishments in the face of daunting odds, and we have laid the foundation for even more dramatic progress in every Louisville neighborhood, for every Louisville family. 

Headlines and events show that America is in a time of tumult; torn by tribalism, suspicion and distrust of the other; consumers and spreaders of misinformation. Those headlines have some truth.

But that does not have to be our destiny.

And it will not be.

We will choose unity, compassion, and family.

This will be our path.

As the three-term mayor of the greatest city in the world, one with a bit more grey hair (see photo), I have seen the magic that happens when we work collectively, when we offer grace, empathy and love, when we work selflessly to spread joy without concern for personal credit. 

96 years ago, Black historian Carter G. Woodson, son of former slaves and graduate of Berea College, created Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, which we celebrate this month. 

Woodson was not just a historian, but a determined activist for the equality of Black Americans. In his efforts to combat racist businesses, he urged others to “banish fear,” saying, “I am ready to act, if I can find brave men to help me.”

I look around this room and see brave men and women.

I look all over our city and see Louisvillians who stand up in the face of fear and work tirelessly with hope and belief in a better tomorrow.

Everywhere I look, I see partners in the progress that we, WE have made.

So commit to being brave. Seize this moment in history with vigor and determination … one family, fighting for a better future, together.

Our city, Louisville.

Thank you.

Cheers!

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