Local News Next Louisville WFPL News Department Podcast

Next Louisville: Republican Candidates Prepare For Final Primary Push

by Gabe Bullard

In eight days, Republican voters in Jefferson County will choose a nominee who’s hoping to become Louisville’s first GOP mayor in decades.

The two frontrunners in the Republican primary are asking voters to choose between experience and activism. The experience candidate is two-term Metro Councilman Hal Heiner. The activist is Chris Thieneman. Both are developers in their private careers.

In the first poll from the Courier-Journal and WHAS-11, Heiner held 30 percent of the vote…4 points behind Thieneman. Weeks later, a similar poll put Heiner in the lead at 42 percent and Thieneman had dropped to 25.
In his campaign office on Ducthman’s Lane, Heiner reflects on the poll. He says when it comes time to choose a leader, many voters want someone with a history of policymaking.

“I think someone that has some experience in government, it gives them the ability to have a quicker start, and that’s my goal for this next administration—that it would hit the ground running,” he says.

As a councilman, Heiner has been a frequent critic and opponent of Mayor Jerry Abramson’s agenda. Thieneman has compared Heiner to the mayor, calling them both insiders and career politicians. But Heiner says after eight years in office, he’s hardly an insider. Further, he says the election isn’t a referendum on Abramson, and even if it were, his actions trump Theineman’s attacks.

“The next mayor needs to be able to not just stand out and say ‘That’s wrong and it shouldn’t be done,’ but actually pull people together from throughout the community and try to decide how to move forward and then actually move forward,” says Heiner.

After the first poll, Heiner launched television ads and continued campaigning in person. He gained momentum and says the campaign won’t change course to address shifts in the polls or attacks from opponents. But with nearly a quarter of voters undecided, Chris Thieneman is plotting his stretch run.

“I’ve been walking everywhere,” he says.

Thieneman has been campaigning door to door in many precincts, focusing on the edges of the county where Republican voters are the most concentrated. He also launched a television campaign last week.

“They’re not going to miss seeing me on television, any more than they’ve been watching my opponent,” says Thieneman.

By touting his history of criticizing Metro Government, Thieneman has positioned himself as the anti-Abramson and anti-establishment candidate, with hopes that dissatisfaction with the mayor and incumbents in general will resonate with GOP voters.

“I think the citizens now more than ever want someone who’s not a career politician,” he says. “If you notice Rand Paul in his commercials, that’s what he’s touting and it’s working.”

“That’s what I hear,” says Jonathan Roberston. “That’s what we need: we need somebody that’s not a politician, that’s not part of how things are.”

Robertson is also running for mayor. He says nobody in the Republican primary is more of an outsider than him. An IT professional and political newcomer, Robertson has promised to give the city a high-tech makeover if elected but with a single-digit showing the polls, Robertson says his message never caught on.

“Lots of people, I think, didn’t think I was serious,” he says. “They thought I got in it just because.”

Even though he acknowleges he’s a longshot, Robertson says he isn’t giving up. He’ll keep campaigning until the May 18th primary, and he says he may run for office again—as an outsider.

Local News Next Louisville

Fischer And Heiner Pull Ahead In Latest Poll

by Gabe Bullard

Democrat Greg Fischer and Republican Hal Heiner have pulled ahead in their respective primaries in the Louisville mayor’s race, according to a new poll.

The latest Bluegrass Poll commissioned by the Courier-Journal and WHAS-11 puts Fischer ahead of the seven other Democrats in the race with 31 percent of the vote. Behind him are Metro Councilman David Tandy with 16 percent and Councilman Jim King with 13 percent.

A poll last month put Fischer at 20 percent, ahead of Tandy, who had 17, and King, who had 12.

Councilman Hal Heiner leads opponent Chris Thieneman 42 to 25 percent in the Republican primary. That’s a reversal from last month’s poll. It put Thieneman ahead of Heiner by 4 points.

The poll, conducted by Survey USA, also found that one in four voters is undecided. A total of eight Democrats, three Republicans and at least three independent candidates are running for mayor.

The results:


  • Fischer – 31%
  • Tandy – 16%
  • King – 13%
  • Allen – 7%
  • White – 4%
  • Farnsley – 2%
  • Marshall – 2%
  • Moxley – 2%
  • Undecided – 23%


  • Heiner – 42%
  • Thieneman – 25%
  • Robertson – 9%
  • Undecided 24%
In-Depth News Local News Next Louisville

A Look At The GOP's Chances In The Mayor's Race

The filing period for Kentucky elections is underway today (Wed). That means anyone seeking the office of Louisville mayor can now officially file the paperwork to be on the ballot for next year’s primaries.

Prior to this week, candidates could file letters of intent, which allowed them to raise money for the race. Five Democrats and a left-leaning independent are vying to fill Mayor Jerry Abramson’s shoes, but only two Republicans have declared their candidacy.

WFPL’s Gabe Bullard has more on how GOP candidates might fare in the fight for an office that’s been dominated by Democrats.

It’s been 40 years since a Republican held the Louisville mayor’s office and there’s been only one mayor since the city and county governments merged in 2003—Democrat Jerry Abramson. He’s not seeking a third term in order to run for Lt. Governor in 2011.

And the two GOP candidates thus far hoping to fill the position are preparing their campaigns.

First, there’s developer Chris Thieneman.

“I’ve been thinking about this for years,” he says.

Thieneman gained notoriety leading the successful campaign against the library tax in 2007. He says that effort was conducted on a low budget, and he expects he can run a mayoral campaign with similar efficiency.

Last year, Thieneman declared his candidacy as a Republican in the primary for the Third District congressional seat held by Democrat John Yarmuth. He later dropped out and endorsed Yarmuth, then changed his mind again and sought the seat as a Republican. Thieneman says there won’t be any such about-face in the mayor’s race, but his willingness to distance himself from the GOP might be an asset.

“I’m not beholden to anyone, and that makes me an attractive candidate in the general election,” says Thieneman. “But I’m going to have a tougher time in the primary.”

“Chris and I are friends,” says Metro Councilman Hal Heiner.

Heiner is Thieneman’s opponent in the primary. He’s been raising money for the campaign longer than Thieneman and he has the support of many high profile Republicans in the area.

“I feel my seven years on the council is an advantage for a quick start,” he says.

Heiner and Thieneman both say they’re uncomfortable with, among other things, how the Abramson administration negotiates contracts and works with developers. They say Abramson hasn’t consulted with the council on development deals except to seek funding approval, though they acknowledge that he’s not required to, and they would take steps to limit executive power.

To further separate himself from Abramson, Heiner says, if elected, he will call for a full audit of the city to make otherwise closed records public.

“My goal in this run for government is to set a pattern and also laws in place, that for the next 50 or 100 years, we’ve set a culture in this government of openness, accountability and checks and balances that will last beyond whatever term I serve,” says Heiner.

But first Heiner has to get elected, which Republican mayoral hopefuls have struggled to do.

“A lot of it boils down to the economy,” says Filson Historical Society curator James Holmberg. “If people feel things are good for them and going in a good direction, they’re happy to stick with the party that’s in power.”

Holmberg says while the political makeup of city halls is often a reflection of the national and state political landscapes at a given time, a lot can happen in short order to sway local voters.

“Sometimes it was almost a reaction, like if there’d been a scandal, and people being people they tend then to want to go in the other direction,” he says. “Throw the bad guys out and go in a different direction.”

So Heiner and Theineman are positioning themselves as alternatives, hoping voter fatigue with Abramson and Democrats in general will win some converts. Mayor Abramson’s approval ratings have slipped in the last year, but they still hover above 50 percent.

Holmberg also points out that this is a historic election for merged government: subtracting Abramson’s popularity and adding the old county’s Republican-leaning history could level the field for the GOP.

Local News Next Louisville

Thieneman Enters Mayor's Race

Louisville developer Chris Thieneman has become the first Republican to announce his candidacy in the mayor’s race.

Thieneman declared his candidacy this week after deciding to drop a lawsuit over the use of city funds to renovate a bowling alley in 4th Street Live. The renovation has prompted a battle in city government over the power of the mayor’s office. Thieneman is campaigning in part on a platform of changing the balance of power to give the Metro Council more authority.

Thieneman ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, and in 2007 he led the successful campaign against the library tax. He’s the first Republican to enter the mayor’s race, though councilman Hal Heiner is considering a bid.

Metro Council President David Tandy, councilman Jim King and businessman Greg Fischer have all declared their candidacies for mayor as Democrats. Coffee shop owner and professor Nimbus Couzin is running as an independent.

All are running to succeed Mayor Jerry Abramson, who is seeking the Lieutenant Governor’s post on Governor Steve Beshear’s ticket.