Greg Fischer officially took the oath of office Monday, making him the 50th mayor of Louisville, but he’s only the second mayor of the merged city and county. Fischer is coming to power at a time of economic uncertainty, and the government he’s leading is still relatively new. WFPL’s Gabe Bullard has more on what Fischer plans to do in his first term, and what he may not be able to do:
Former Fischer campaign volunteer Nicole Henry was one of the first people to show up for the inauguration. As she shivered on a set of bleachers on Jefferson Street, Henry said she hoped inauguration day would mark the beginning of a truly new era in Louisville.
“He’s going to bring the neighborhoods involved. I’m really excited about that,” she said. “We’ve been distant as a community, as a city. We’ve had our own neighborhoods and we haven’t really come together. It seems like he’s going to bring us together.”
Fischer is the first completely new mayor of merged government. Unlike his predecessor Jerry Abramson, Fischer comes from the private sector. Before narrowly winning the mayor’s race, the closest Fischer had come to holding office was an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2008. Henry says the fact that Fischer is relatively new to not only Louisville politics, but to politics in general, will be a welcome change.
“I like the newness of it and I think it’s really going to be great for our city and for our state as well,” she said.
Fischer campaigned for months on a platform of new ideas and unity for Louisville, and the themes even popped up in Father Dave Zettel’s invocation before Fischer was sworn in.
“Let us share a bit more in your creativity to forge ahead a bit more with new ideas and novel approaches,” he said.
Later, in his inaugural address, Fischer said now is the crucial time for Louisville to change; the city hasn’t grown as fast as others, and jobs have been lost since merger.
“The future of our city, the relevance of Louisville as a thriving 21st Century City is what’s at stake here,” he said. “We will set our sights high.”
Later in the speech, Fischer set his sights on three key issues: education, health and compassion. Work is already underway in some of those areas. Abramson helped launch a program aimed at getting more Louisvillians to finish college, and Fischer promoted it in his speech.
As for health, Fischer has retained most of Abramson’s top staff, but he will have to replace health director Adewale Troutman. Dr. Troutman has taken a job in Florida, and Fischer has already announced plans to search for a new health director. That will give the new mayor a chance to move the city’s health department in a new direction.
Compassion may be a less concrete term, but Fischer plans to spur benevolence by supporting social services programs like housing. He’s also encouraging Louisvillians to volunteer and reach out to their fellow citizens.
“There’s first class and there’s coach and if the plane goes down, we all go down together,” he said. “So we’re in this together, whether you like it or not.”
Among the first citizens Fischer will reach out to are the 26 members of the Metro Council. The mayor will address the body on Thursday. It’s a departure, considering that Abramson previously only addressed the council once a year, when he presented the budget for the following fiscal year.
University of Louisville political science professor Ron Vogel told WFPL last week that the body could use Abramson’s departure and Fischer’s willingness to delegate city duties to assert its power.
“The council does sound like it’s going to try to have greater control,” he said. “If we’re dealing with problems of having to reduce budgets instead of increase them, the mayor be happy to share that authority with them, to share also the blame of cuts.”
And Vogel says finances will largely define Fischer’s first year or two in office. While revenues appear to be in line with predictions, unexpected expenses such as higher pension costs and lawsuit settlements could leave the city scrambling to fill holes in the budget. And further spending cuts could hinder progress, making Fischer’s first term seem a lot like Abramson’s last.