Louisville mayoral race unfolds amid ongoing tensions

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg bounced in his step as he went house to house looking for voters on a cold spring afternoon. But when people recognized him, it wasn’t for the reasons he anticipated when he announced his race last year.

Some had seen news reports from February 14, when a man showed up at Greenberg’s campaign headquarters and repeatedly shot the candidate and his staff, who barricaded the door with tables and chairs. No one was hit, but a bullet grazed Greenberg’s sweater. A local social justice activist has been charged in the attempted shooting.

Now Greenberg has resumed his campaign in a city troubled by racial tensions, a spike in gun violence and deep apprehensions about the Louisville Police Department.

Two years ago, this city of about 600,000 people was best known as the home of the Kentucky Derby, bourbon whiskey and Muhammad Ali. Then a botched police raid in March 2020 left Breonna Taylora 26-year-old black woman who died in her own apartment at the hands of white police officers.

His name was plastered on T-shirts and magazines. It swept across social media and echoed through city streets as thousands marched across the country, demanding justice. And his death still resonates in local politics.

Shortly after the attempt on Greenberg’s life, the only officer criminally charged for his actions during the Taylor raid was acquitted by a Kentucky jury.leaving many feeling that the justice system fell short.

Greenberg shooting suspect Quintez Brown, 21, was also on the May 17 ballot, running for subway council. Now he’s in federal custody, charged with state and federal crimes that could lock him up for the rest of his life. He pleaded not guilty at all costs.

Brown, who is black, was released two days after the shooting when the Louisville Community Bail Fund posted his $100,000 bond. Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke in the US Senate almost immediately, calling Brown’s release “stunning” and suggesting it reflected poorly on his leftist political rivals.

But the backlash from Brown’s release has crossed partisan lines. Charles Booker, a Louisville Democrat running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Rand Paul, insisted that “anyone who has been arrested for attempted murder – and feared to harm themselves – himself and others – should be in custody”.

Now at the center of this uproar, Greenberg speaks cautiously about the attempt on his life but does not shy away from making connections to his campaign.

“I believe it has made me a stronger person who can hopefully work more effectively with others to make Louisville safer,” he explained.

He has resumed normal campaign activities, but with heightened security. He also pledges to address the concerns of black voters by increasing transparency and accountability if elected.

“I share their frustrations,” he said. “I am no longer interested in further studies. We all know what the problems are here in Louisville.

One of Greenberg’s opponents, Shameka Parrish-Wright, has her own connection to Louisville’s troubled recent past. She follows Greenberg in fundraising, but as she moves through Louisville’s predominantly black West End, some residents also recognize her.

After Taylor’s shooting, Parrish-Wright joined months-long protests in downtown Jefferson Square Park, where she became a voice for protesters.

“I want to be the change I seek,” she said of her run for mayor.

Many black voters she spoke with doubt a mayor can deliver on his promises. They also resent that no one has been charged in Taylor’s death, while the white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have been convicted of murder.

Parrish-Wright fears some voters may confuse her actions as an activist with Brown or the group that funded her release. She said she doesn’t know Brown very well, but hopes he gets the mental health resources he needs.

If elected, Parrish-Wright would join a growing group of black mayors in cities like New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Representation in the mayoral seat, she said, could restore confidence in a city where nearly half of Kentucky’s black population lives. The state legislature is dominated by white Republicans, and although there is a Democratic governor, the city often finds itself at odds with the Frankfurt Capitol.

Greenberg and Parrish-Wright are among eight Democratic primary candidates. Candidates presented voters with plans for economic development and other issues, but public safety and police are never far from the conversation.

The winner of the primary will be heavily favored in the November general election, as Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans.

The next mayor will be called upon to lead the city through a complicated time, and leaving the past behind will not be easy. Louisville Police Department remains under federal investigationand many activists want to be heard. The two-year lockdown during the pandemic has left downtown storefronts and office buildings empty.

“There are a lot of people who feel discouraged because we’ve had two of the worst years, for many of us, of our lives. We’re exhausted,” said Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League.

Reynolds, who backed another black mayoral candidate, the Reverend Tim Findley Jr., said the task ahead of the winner will be daunting — and patience is running out.

“It’s not enough to create good programs; you actually have to be able and willing to change structures,” she said. “The current system that we have – it just doesn’t work fast enough.”

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Hudspeth Blackburn is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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