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April 22, 2008

Tough crowd: It’s the South End vs. the mayor on munitions storage. Too bad nobody will win

A “Mayor’s Community Conversation” is a flea market of government wares, a self-contained ecosystem designed to be wandered and accessed with maximum ease. It is intended to be understood as a service provided to you, the constituent, because the predominant philosophy here is that you matter. You may line up and speak directly with Mayor Jerry Abramson about whatever is on your mind, and a person from Metro government will take notes about your situation. You may ultimately be directed to one in the rows of surrounding tables, where every government agency — and some city services not run by government, like the water or power companies — is represented. Although it is unlikely you will leave a community conversation with any real resolution, you may walk out feeling less frustrated, less abandoned by government, even less cynical. That is, unless you were one of the 100-some residents at Fairdale High School Monday night to talk with the mayor and police about the munitions storage magazine soon to be installed on Cardinal Hill, which also happens to be the place where the water supply for most of southwest Louisville is buried. No answer will satisfy the throng of misinformed South Louisville residents who remain emphatically opposed to it. Metro Councilman Doug Hawkins, R-25, who is also running for state Senate, has for nearly two weeks issued an intense campaign of fear, misinformation and paranoid delusion about what exactly this thing is and the threat it could pose to the surrounding area. In several self-produced YouTube clips, some 50,000 robocalls to constituents and personal calls to reporters (including this one), Hawkins has referred to the storage facility as a “bomb shelter,” dismissing what police and Metro officials have told him and residents about the 16-foot-wide by 8-foot-high-and-deep steel rectangle: It would house low-grade munitions, confiscated weapons and small artillery, perhaps an occasional grenade or brick of fireworks. He has continually said the facility would be a terrorist target and a direct threat to the water supply. It’s bullshit, you know, but who cares? Nobody in the crowd Monday night seemed to. Despite being handed easy, contrary information to what they’d been told about the facility for the second time in a week, people kept trying to catch the mayor or police in a conspiracy against the South End, trotting out a string of issues that have nothing to do with munitions storage, just more evidence of how royally The Man fucks them: an initiative to transfer excess sewage from the overdeveloped East End to the South End; the sale of a police training facility over which the city is being sued; the maligned library tax that was defeated last November.Of course, as all kinds of people told me afterwards, this is not about a “bomb shelter.” It’s about some South End residents taking advantage of an opportunity to grind an old ax with the mayor, who they genuinely believe runs the city like a mob boss too focused on the whores to deal with the real estate. This bomb-shelter stuff is simply the manifestation of a natural inability to trust what he is saying. To wit: Pam Hale, who lives near Cardinal Hill: “It is about that we never get asked first. (The mayor) assumes that he can do with us what he pleases. It doesn’t matter what he says. He sent this group out there last week (for another town hall-style meeting about munitions storage) to tap dance for two hours to tell us there was not a bomb. We know that. We’re not worried about a bomb. It’s just, why here?”Jerry Hamilton, lifelong resident: “It just seems like the whole area looks down on the South End. Like, we don’t need to have nice clothes. We don’t need to have books to read. We don’t need to have a nice restaurant to go to. It’s just like we don’t deserve nothing. … We’re like the stepchild of Louisville.” Kathy Beinkampen: “He absolutely ignores South Louisville.”Metro Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, represents part of Fairdale and lives two miles from Cardinal Hill. She said she’s not opposed to the munitions storage facility, and agreed it’s a red herring for the South End, an irrelevant argument made to fulfill this prophecy of mistreatment. She added that, in her district, it appears the ground on which this argument has always stood is starting to erode. Regardless, the people here have a gripe. At least the mayor and police had the decency to listen, even though it will change absolutely nothing.  Contact the writer at sgeorge@leoweekly.com