September 23, 2009

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

If there’s a wild card candidate in the mayoral race, political activist Tyler Allen must be it. While his opponents can say they have deeper pockets, more government experience and CEO status, none can say he’s dipped into Louisville’s untapped people power quite like Allen. The co-founder of the controversial grassroots 8664 campaign brings an energy and excitement to a race that could easily be another snooze election consisting of interests between local powerbrokers.

The upbeat Democrat is considered a long shot in the primary field, but the local punditry said the same about an alternative-newsweekly founder who upset a 10-year congressional incumbent in 2006.

And while critics swat him away as a gnat with a reckless idea, supporters describe him as a visionary. The Louisville businessman recently sat down with LEO to talk about mayoral power, the upcoming primary battle and the big idea behind his campaign. Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

LEO: As mayor, would you implement 8664?

Tyler Allen: The first thing that I would do — which is a first component of 8664 and just so happens to be hugely popular among the citizens of the whole region — would be building an East End bridge as quickly as possible. There has been no issue in this community where the interest of the few has stymied the opportunity of the many quite like that. When we get that bridge off the ground that will open up the possibility for the next conversation … clearly we know where my values lie on that.

LEO: Critics say you’re a long-shot candidate known for a single issue, a one-trick pony. How do you respond to that assessment?

TA: I believe there’s a very big issue in this race and it is that we need a mayor who has the vision and passion to move us forward as a whole community. In that regard, I do believe I have that vision and that passion. Anybody who has heard me talk about 8664 knows how much broader my vision is with regards to things in the community … What’s exciting is the fact that all these issues (are connected). It is stunning how connected they all are.

LEO: How do you plan to contrast your candidacy?

TA: Very much the intent would be to run as a change agent … My involvement over the past years in co-founding a very large grassroots movement means I’ve spent a lot of time interacting with the system in Frankfort and in Louisville … and it’s an incredible organism, a city. Quite frankly, no one can claim to be prepared for (being mayor) in this community. There’s so much to learn on the job. It’s a very distinct role, but it is living and breathing because it is predicated and based upon citizens and neighborhoods. It’s not a business. This is not about being CEO of a business. It is about being mayor of a community.

LEO: What is this big idea for the city and vision that will get people energized during the campaign?

TA: I have gone around for several years, engaged with people and articulated a big development vision … I’ve talked about that and will continue to talk about that catalytic sort of change. Going into this campaign one of the big ideas I will be about is, I’ve got a lot of energy and passion, but really this isn’t about my vision. Ultimately it’s about everyone else’s.

LEO: But you’ve encountered resistance to your big idea in the past. People aren’t always open to change. Is Louisville as progressive or freethinking as you hope?

TA: You can talk about your plans for XYZ, but fundamentally it’s about unleashing the talents of people here … more publicly than most perhaps I have tried to push for a conversation about an idea and found myself running into stiff opposition … The frustration was the attack on the conversation itself, and that has a deadening impact on a community because what do people look for when they come into a city — an open exchange of ideas ... We talk about entrepreneurship in this community purely in a business sense, but in reality an entrepreneur is not limited to business or making money. It’s people with ideas who pursue and develop them in a broader marketplace. When you try to stifle a conversation about something political or different, that has a bad impact on business. We’ve got to be an open, dynamic and encouraging place.

Visit leoweekly.com/news to read the full interview.