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August 26, 2009

David Tandy: The full interview

The council president and mayoral candidate talks with LEO Weekly

During a recent sit-down inside LEO Weekly’s offices, Council President David Tandy discussed an array of topics, including Barack Obama, The Cordish Cos., housing and the upcoming mayoral campaign. A portion of that conversation ran in this week’s edition of “Jerry’s kids;” here’s the rest of that interview:

LEO: Why are you running for mayor?

DT: I think this is a unique opportunity for us here in the city to elect a leader for the first time in the mayor’s position that can bring the community together and focus us around a common vision and direction … As the councilman for downtown Louisville and the neighborhoods that border downtown in that extremely diverse mix of business versus residential, rich and poor, young, old, black and white, I see that everyday as a microcosm of our city…

LEO: Long before Barack Obama there were black mayors in U.S. cities going back to the 1960s. What’s the historical significance of your campaign?

DT: I haven’t really stopped to think about it in that context … I do think, however, from a historic standpoint it will definitely have some significance. For some it will be a sense of pride to say for the first time they have the opportunity to elect an African-American who lives in the West End, but works downtown and has the ability to connect with people across this community.

LEO: Obama said he hopes his election would inspire African-Americans nationally. Do you think you’ll have the same effect locally if elected?

DT: I would hope so. I would hope that we’re getting to the point where there are no limits and there are no excuses for anyone not to succeed. That race is no longer a barrier for anyone who has prepared themselves and conducted themselves in such a way that allows them to succeed or have the opportunity.

LEO: You’ve talked about attracting people to the city. You’re a black, young professional. Does Louisville have a brain drain problem?

DT: We have a brain drain in that we’re not successful at retaining our best and brightest. Part of the reason is we have to create the type of jobs that they want to come back home to. We have to create the entrainment environment in addition. It’s all about working, living and playing in a city. We have to create that environment for them. Retaining our young people … means thinking 20 and 30 years down the line to help them decide, “Do I come back home to Louisville or go somewhere else?” I want to help them come back. In doing that not only do we retain them, but we’re also competing with other cities in attracting their talented folks to Louisville.

LEO: Critics say one problem is that you’re too nice and unwilling to rock the boat. Your legislative record bears this out. How do you respond to that assessment?

DT: I respond appropriately to the situations that present themselves. You don’t rock the boat for rocking the boat’s sake. In my opinion there’s a time and a place for everything, and there’s an appropriate way to act. And I believe that my record reflects I’ve acted in a manner that tries to be very deliberate, but allows for a path to be set to where we can see progress is being made.

LEO: Since joining the Metro Council, what are a few city bills you’ve sponsored that demonstrate the type of leader you would be as mayor?

DT: One we’ve just finished with was in the Labor and Economic Development Committee, (which) passed unanimously the ordinance where we’re expanding the property tax assessment moratorium on buildings that are 25 years or older to include those buildings that are L.E.E.D. certified throughout the county. It shows we’re trying to do our part in getting on the forefront in making Louisville the Silicon Valley for green technology.

Another piece of legislation where I led and it potentially rocked the boat, but I thought was the right thing to do, was the bridges and moving that piece forward. It starts the ball rolling and allows us to start down the path of building the Ohio River Bridges Project. There are folks on both sides of that issue, but there was a clear path to take.

LEO: Recently you sent a letter to The Cordish Cos. requesting all financial documentation on how it spent a $950,000 loan in tax money. Were you satisfied with your recent trip to their Baltimore offices and what you found?

DT: We went through the receipts from that project and matched up the invoices that were spent on the project with actual checks demonstrating the money was paid. It showed that all of the $950,000 that was lent to the project was spent on it per the agreement.

LEO: Why then did the auditor mention as a caveat that they weren’t able to verify these records?

DT: I would have to let the auditor answer that because there are certain procedures that a certified auditor has to go through in order to give an audit. What I do know about is the procedure I was privy to. I know that the audit wasn’t something where folks went up there, took 30 minutes and just looked at a stack and didn’t go through it and said, “Yep, I think that’s there.” We thoroughly went through each of the documents and asked questions like, “What is this and what does that invoice mean?” We got clarification.

LEO: If their expenditures checked out, why sign a confidentiality agreement with The Cordish Cos. barring you from discussing or divulging the loan details? Were you hesitant about that at first?

DT: Whenever you’re dealing in a public realm you want everything laid out, but even our open records law has provisions where certain proprietary business information is kept confidential because you don’t want to … discourage development, whether from a local or national company. You have to be mindful of that and protective of that… The main concern I had was making sure the money was spent per the loan agreement here in Louisville. It had the appearance that you’re taking money from the right pocket and you’re putting it in your left pocket with a hole in it that’s going somewhere else. You want to make sure that money we’re lending is used for the public purpose to develop the property that was here.

LEO: The auditor’s report made it clear the city doesn’t have the authority to make all those things public record. Should Metro government stipulate that developers keep their financial records transparent whenever they use city funds? Council members Kelly Downard, R-16, and Jim King, D-10, introduced an ordinance that will mandate full disclosure.

DT: I would certainly encourage any business to do that, just like we’d ask any other entity, such as (providing) a grant for a nonprofit, to make sure those funds are being used for a public purpose. But I also understand from a business perspective you have to make sure you’re creating a business climate … that is conducive to them doing business here. You want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to come here, otherwise you’re essentially creating a situation where you’re putting a sign up outside the city limits that says, “Louisville is not open for business or development.”

LEO: For the past several years, Metro government has supported replacing public housing with mixed-income neighborhoods. It has largely been a mayoral initiative. What is your view?

DT: I’m supportive of it. The barrack-style housing that we see in Louisville, it was state of the art at the time it was built and it was meant to be temporary. You had a number of people who lived in those homes for a couple years and moved on and into home ownership.

LEO: People who are left there are stuck?

DT: Some people. So you now have pockets of poverty … If you’re able to break those pockets up and able to mix it … you’re having good role models living there for others to see. I live in the Russell neighborhood. What you hope to see is young people going up and down the street and saying, “That’s Mr. Tandy’s house, he’s an attorney, city councilman and running for mayor. I can do that.”

LEO: Are you encouraged by the recent news that the city is seeking $20 million in federal funds to demolish and refurbish what is currently the Sheppard Square housing complex?

DT: I’m very hopeful we’ll be successful in obtaining those funds. That will be a significant shot in the arm for the Smoketown neighborhood. Back when Sheppard Square was first built, the types of families you had coming out were essentially a who’s who of Louisville. We want to see that happen again. This would essentially be a continuation of the ripple effects that you are witnessing around the Liberty Green development. It’s jumping south of Broadway.

LEO: How would you handle the mismanagement problems being associated with the management company over at Park DuValle?

DT: First, understand the management of that development is not under purview of the Louisville Housing Authority. The housing authority is a pass-through entity from HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to the actual project itself. And HUD is the one controlling who is hired as the manager. Certainly we have a say in that. As mayor I’d make it very clear to HUD the type of service we’re looking for in that management team of that property over the long haul.

LEO: It is more than just tearing down the projects. There needs to be a follow-up with commercial space and rent control, doesn’t there?

DT: Right. It’s about helping the people who live there now and making sure those needs are being met. You have to have the right people working there with proper background checks. From my perspective, as mayor, you have to articulate on the front end to HUD this is what we’re looking for and throughout the lifetime of that project making sure those expectations are being maintained throughout.

LEO: The Affordable Trust Fund has been lingering in Metro government for a while now. There’s talk about moving the fund’s operation from the city to a nonprofit. What would you do to get that public resource up and running?

DT: It all boils down to creating a vehicle that allows for enough (money) to be generated, so that then you can use interest off of that to actually build up a fund for affordable housing. Whether it’s a private group and we’re a participant or Metro government doing it by itself, all those options need to be on the table. It’s the whole reason why so many trust fund advocates pushed in Frankfort for an independent revenue stream that would help fund it. That was knocked down. Perhaps we’re at a different place where we can try that again. The idea of having affordable housing in our community is critical because it addresses so many other issues.

LEO: Do you think it’s important for the new mayor to contrast the current administration? In what ways will you do that?

DT: Just the sheer fact of my background makes it where there’s somewhat of a contrast. I’ve operated on a statewide level through my involvement with party politics (and) have had the opportunity to see the entire state … The dynamic that it’s Louisville versus the rest of the state is and should be going by the wayside. I tell people, “It’s appropriate to fight like Cats and Cards in December on the basketball court, but once the athletic events are over we’re one Kentucky.” And Louisville is a part of that. And you’re seeing that being torn down.

LEO: It is still a wedge issue councilman. It’s being used in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary race between Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway. Do you think you can bridge that?

DT: I can do my part. But my election as mayor — if the people of Louisville decide to do that — will not be the silver bullet to solve that question. It’s going to be all of us doing our part. It’s a two-way street.

LEO: Things could get ugly in a crowded Democratic primary field. Do you anticipate an ugly campaign?

DT: I don’t think so. You’ve seen it with regard to Democrats that we’re like family. We can fight things out tooth and nail, as in 2008 with the presidential primary. At the end of the day, though, once we had a Democratic nominee we all rallied around that individual. I think that’ll happen in this race.

LEO: You don’t expect any negative campaigning in the mayor’s race?

I certainly don’t anticipate doing any on my end. I don’t campaign that way.

LEO: What is our biggest strength as a city?

DT: Our biggest strength is the ability for the community to come together in times of difficulty. You can’t argue with the way we came together and the outpouring of support to help those in need due to the windstorm, ice storm and most recently the flood. People rallied and came together. Even during the windstorm we still put on a major event with the Ryder Cup with the world watching Louisville, Ky., and folks from outside didn’t know anything was happening. It represents the can-do attitude we can build upon.

LEO: What about our weaknesses?

DT: One of the things we’ll have to continue to work on is getting back to our roots as a city that takes bold steps and initiative. If you go back to the history books, we’re always a city that was willing to lead … Louisville was the Athens of the south. You had to stop here and we took advantage of that. We invested $1 million into the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. That was a bold move. Before there was integration everywhere else we had integrated communities and some of the most educated people of color living here in Jefferson County. They were succeeding and thriving because we didn’t put up any barriers on what we can do. We have to return to believing in ourselves.