September 29, 2010

Jerry’s kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

It’s unclear whether Republican Hal Heiner will gain traction in the race for mayor by putting the controversial Jefferson County Public School student assignment plan front and center.

The mayor has no authority over public school policy, yet in a 30-second commercial that began airing last week, the East End Republican says it is time to end the “failed student assignment plan.”

“We have a problem, and it’s not working. And somebody has to stand up with a 30-percent dropout rate and these recent test scores to address it, because these numbers are staggering,” says Joe Burgan, Heiner’s campaign manager.

The controversial plan tries to keep public schools diverse by taking the socioeconomic characteristics of a student’s neighborhood into consideration when deciding enrollment. Since 2007, parents have complained about long bus rides, particularly for elementary school children.

The Heiner campaign contends that they are not advocating for neighborhood schools, however, local African-American ministers have assailed the ad, saying it’s against diversity and would drive the community back into the 1950s.

Burgan says the campaign isn’t against diversity. Rather it is pushing for a conversation to help close the achievement gap and address failing schools in the district. But a recent poll among registered voters shows that despite being against the busing plan, Democrat Greg Fischer has widened his lead over Heiner by six points.

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In its continued effort to eliminate “food deserts” by bringing fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods, the city opened its third Healthy in a Hurry Corner Store.

Last week, Mayor Jerry Abramson and Public Health and Wellness director Dr. Adewale Troutman joined residents of the Shawnee neighborhood in celebrating the store’s launch inside French Plaza.

“We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Troutman says. “Food deserts exist when lower income urban neighborhoods are saturated with fast food and convenience stores. Many of the residents of these neighborhoods don’t have access to transportation to get to larger supermarkets that sell fresh produce.”

In 2007, food researcher Mari Gallagher found that east downtown and west Louisville residents must travel two to five times farther to reach a mainstream supermarket than to reach convenience stores or fast-food restaurants.

For two years, the health department has worked to alleviate the problem by helping those stores carry fresh produce and other healthy food options that might otherwise not be available.

At the Shawnee location, the city partnered with the store’s owner and used a $20,000 federal grant to purchase refrigeration units, display racks, new signs and improve construction.

This is the third store of its kind to open. Two locations — one at the Dollar Plus store in Smoketown and another at Shorty’s in the California neighborhood — opened in January 2009.

A few months later, Shorty’s owner Nour Kurdi abandoned the initiative citing insufficient sales.

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The race for the Metro Council’s 6th District seat is turning into a crafty contest. Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed in Jefferson Circuit Court to disqualify Councilman Deonte Hollowell, Ind.-6, from running in the general election.

The suit alleges that the University of Louisville professor does not have enough signatures from registered voters in the district in his petition that he submitted to the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office.

Hollowell is the first independent to serve on the council after being appointed to replace the late George Unseld, and is facing three opponents who are also vying for the seat: Democrat David James, Republican Candace Jaworski and write-in candidate Ken Herndon.

Political observers speculate that party operatives are behind the lawsuit, in part because the attorney involved in the case is Jennifer Moore, the former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairwoman who was named the party’s legal counsel a week before.

In a telephone interview, KDP spokesman Matt Erwin denied that Moore was working on the party’s behalf. When she was asked who brought Hollowell’s petition to her attention, however, Moore would not comment.

“This lawsuit is a clear attempt by the business-as-usual party bosses to protect their backroom nominee, who just moved into the district a year ago,” Herndon says. “Those same power brokers believe that the seat is theirs to be manipulated. My campaign believes it belongs to the people.”

Leading up to the special election, Herndon narrowly missed winning the appointment from the council, and then was passed over by the Jefferson County Democratic Party when it nominated James to run for the seat.

Still, the immensely popular Herndon, who narrowly lost his bid for the seat in 2008, decided to launch a write-in campaign not long after the party made its selection. When asked who he believes is specifically behind the suit against Hollowell, Herndon wouldn’t specify.

“I don’t know anything about the lawsuit,” says James, former president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “The only place where I’ve heard that the party is somehow involved is from Mr. Herndon. And he should focus on the issues of the district as opposed to the issues of the party and whatever happened with his loss on the council and his loss with the nomination, because that’s all behind us.”

While Herndon and James are jousting, Hollowell says he has retained legal counsel for the upcoming hearing and is trying to remain focused on the election.

“I’m not sure who is trying to push me out of the race, and quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter,” he says. “It’s a situation I have to take care of in order to clear my name, but I’m not letting this stop my campaign. I can’t be concerned, because I have to gain the trust of the voters.”