LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Crime in Kentucky’s largest city has taken center stage in the race for mayor, and it has been brought into sharper focus by the attempted killing of one of the mayoral candidates earlier this year.
Democrat Craig Greenberg, a businessperson and newcomer to politics, will face Republican Bill Dieruf, the mayor of a small incorporated city in Louisville, in Tuesday's election. Someone carrying a handgun fired shots at Greenberg inside his campaign office this year, with a bullet grazing his sweater.
Greenberg said the horrifying episode brought home the need to curb gun violence in Louisville and stiffened his resolve to run for mayor.
Greg Fischer, a Democrat, is leaving the mayor's office after three terms. He has presided over one of the most turbulent times in the city’s history, as a pandemic gutted the downtown business district and protesters took to the streets for months after the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice charged three Louisville officers with conspiring to put false information in the warrant used to raid Taylor's apartment. A fourth officer was charged with recklessly shooting into her apartment.
Both candidates said improving public safety is a priority in the city of about 630,000 people, which hasn’t had a Republican mayor since before the city and county merged in 2000. Violent crime has soared in Louisville in recent years, with record homicides in 2020 and 2021.
Dieruf, 67, the mayor of Jeffersontown, said increasing the size of the city’s police force will improve safety and allow for more consistency in patrolling. He said he would like to see better community policing efforts, placing officers in areas where they can get to know residents and understand the needs.
“We need to have more officers on the street,” Dieruf said, describing officers he has met with as “demoralized.”
“They don’t have any confidence in their work,” he said. Deiruf said that as mayor, he would bring Jeffersontown's police chief along with him for a yet-to-be-defined role in the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Greenberg, 49, also stressed public safety in an interview and said that Louisville can have the “best trained, most transparent, the most trusted police department," but that part of his plan to improve public safety is investing in neglected neighborhoods and building affordable housing.
“Having a safe, affordable and high quality home is the foundation of safety, health and opportunity,” he said.
Greenberg has introduced a plan to have firearms seized by police rendered inoperable before they are given to Kentucky State Police for auction. State law requires confiscated guns to be sold at auction, and the proceeds are used to buy equipment for police. Greenberg said that taxpayers spend millions to take illegal guns off the street but that many end up back in the hands of criminals.
Greenberg's own brush with violent crime in February left him shaken but didn't deter him from running for mayor. He escaped the shooting unharmed after the man fired several shots inside his campaign office downtown. A local social justice activist who was running for city council was charged with attempted murder and remains in federal custody.
Dieruf touted a local program he began in his city that allows people with drug addiction to turn themselves in so they can be given treatment instead of criminal charges. The program is modeled after one in Massachusetts.
“If you have an addiction problem, you can walk into the police department and say ‘I need help,’” Dieruf said.
Neither candidate has pledged to keep the current Louisville police chief, Erika Shields, who took over in early 2021, when fallout from the Taylor shooting was still running hot. Shields announced last week that violent crime in the city has gone down 17% compared with last year, and that nonfatal shootings were down 30% over the same time period.
Greenberg said he will look at all leadership positions, including the chief's job.
“I haven’t promised any job to anyone,” he said.
Greenberg has run ads calling Dieruf “extreme” on abortion rights in the liberal-leaning city. Dieruf said mayors should be focused on local issues and leave abortion battles to state and federal lawmakers.
Greenberg has also said that as mayor, he would not allow Louisville officers to arrest doctors for performing abortions, in defiance of the state's near-total ban on abortion. Dieruf, who has said he favors exceptions to the state law for rape and incest, said mayors should not be telling the police whom to arrest.
“If somebody says they're not going to enforce laws and tell their police to stand down, that is very scary,” Dieruf said.