April 14, 2010

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

Whenever the Ohio River Bridges Project comes up at a mayoral forum, there is a noticeable opposition in the audience despite the fact that the establishment candidates in both primaries favor the $4.1 billion plan. And if the project remains the juggernaut in the room, then expect the beneficiary to be Democratic mayoral candidate Tyler Allen, who appears set to raise the temperature on the anti-tolling sentiment among voters.

In a recent campaign video released on YouTube, the co-founder of 8664 outlined what downtown Louisville would look like after the “$4 billion boondoggle” is complete. Breaking from his Boy Scout image, Allen, who supports building an East End bridge, called out the leading candidates in the Democratic primary for supporting the plan.

“Even the state’s own study indicated that a one-bridge solution would perform 99 percent as well,” Allen says. “And yet my opponents in this year’s race for mayor — Jim King, David Tandy and Greg Fischer — all support the Ohio River Bridges Project and its 23 lane-wide Spaghetti Junction. And they support charging you tolls on bridges you already own to pay for it.”

At the recent bi-state authority meeting, tolling dominated the limited discussion and opposition was fierce. There is no set financial plan for the bridges project, but a handful of funding strategies, including traditional federal highway revenues, have been outlined. In addition, tolling has been a consistent alternative discussed by the project’s consultants.

And if tolling remains an anxiety for voters and becomes a centerpiece of the mayoral campaign, Allen’s consistent position on the subject will certainly give him a needed boost.

At least one of his opponents, Democrat Greg Fischer, has been criticized for apparently flip-flopping on the bridges issue.

Earlier this year, the Louisville businessman told The Courier-Journal, “We must start with the East End bridge.” It’s a statement Fischer repeated over the course of the campaign, resulting in applause from critics of the bridges projects. It also resulted in a very public scolding from the newspaper’s editorial board.

“It was distressing … to hear Democratic mayoral hopeful Greg Fischer say … that the effort should begin with a new East End bridge, with fixing Spaghetti Junction and building a new downtown bridge to come later,” the editorial read. “It shouldn’t be necessary to repeat this for mayoral candidates, but here goes: The record of decision for the project is a done deal … It calls for both bridges to be pursued at the same time … If the project is to move forward, it is imperative that the next wave of community leaders get with the plan.”

A few months later when Fischer’s first television advertisement debuted, the Democratic frontrunner said plainly that both bridges should be built. It’s a position the campaign says is consistent with the project’s construction schedule.

“Despite how Greg’s opposition or the C-J may try to mischaracterize his stance, it has been consistent all along,” Rande Swann, a Fischer campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Greg supports building both bridges; however, he advocates starting the East End bridge first/now to put people back to work in construction jobs, as soon as possible, to help the economy recover and to provide a reliever during construction of the downtown bridge.”

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The punches in the Republican mayoral primary over job attraction are getting more vicious thanks to developer Chris Thieneman, whose campaign launched a website devoted to slamming his opponent, Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, for moving 500 jobs to Southern Indiana.

Last fall, the press criticized Heiner for touting job creation while his private company, Capstone, profited from a project that took jobs across the bridge. The site, dubbed “Heiner’s Heist,” also contrasts the campaign disagreement over whether job attraction should be focused in the city or region.

“It’s about Louisville first because we’re the economic engine,” says Michael Wray, a Thieneman campaign spokesman. “Anytime you hear Hal talk about job attraction he talks about it as a region.”

Meanwhile, the Heiner campaign says it’s eager to have a debate about job attraction. And when Thieneman kept slamming the east Louisville councilman about this issue earlier in the campaign, the Heiner campaign responded: “The statements are especially concerning because Hal’s opponent does not realize that businesses and families rely on the regional nature of our economy. His opponent’s lack of understanding of the basic economics of job creation has led the campaign to set the record straight.”