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Looking to the Future in Louisville, KY: An Interview with Craig Greenberg

Craig Greenberg is the leading 2022 Democratic candidate for mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. An attorney by training, Greenberg has served as CEO and President of 21c Museum Hotels, a chain of combination contemporary art museums and boutique hotels. As of April, he has received the most endorsements of any candidate in the crowded race. On February 14, Greenberg survived an assassination attempt with unknown motives, an event for which he has received national attention.

Stella Kleinman: Why did you decide to run for mayor of Louisville?

Craig Greenberg: I have always loved Louisville, and I’ve always thought that public service is a very honorable thing for people to do. Growing up, I was involved in my community, then went away to college and law school, but came back home because I really loved Louisville as a city and as a place.

I felt like the city was getting complacent. I’d visited other cities which were doing much more to invest in the future and help give people opportunities they hadn’t had in the past. So, I decided to be a part of the progress in Louisville by bringing people together to make Louisville a safer, stronger, more vibrant, healthier, energetic city.

SK: If you’re elected, what are the first actions you’ll take to achieve this goal?

CG: Louisville is currently in the middle of a violent crime crisis. Last year, nearly 200 people were killed by gun violence, hundreds more were injured, and thousands of families were impacted by violent crime. My focus as mayor is first and foremost going to be public safety. My goal is to have the best trained, most trusted, and most transparent police department in the entire country — one that focuses on preventing crimes, not just responding to crimes.

But at the same time, I don’t believe that police alone are the solution to making a city safer, so we need to invest in other programs, too. We need to provide mental health resources to people who need them. We need to have more mentorship and enrichment programs for children and young adults. We need to invest in the root causes of crime and poverty. There are many things that other cities have done that have proven effective in reducing violent crime. I’m advocating for them now as a candidate, and starting on day one, my absolute priority will be making Louisville a safer city.

I actually have a unique experience. Just over a month ago, an individual walked into my campaign office while four other colleagues and I were having a meeting and fired his gun at me six times. I’m really blessed to still be here today; it was a horrible experience that I don’t wish on anybody. And I know that many others in this city are not as fortunate as my colleagues and I were to survive and move forward. I think I need to move forward from this unwanted experience by letting it inform my actions and feelings as the next mayor to make Louisville safer on behalf of everyone who is impacted by violent crime.

SK: How has your role as a victim of violent crime affected your agenda?

CG: Making Louisville a safer city has been my number one priority since the day I announced that I was running, but without a doubt, this assassination attempt has changed me. It’s impacted the community, and I think we should move forward by using it to bring the city together. Knowing first-hand gives you a very different understanding than hearing about the impacts. I am committed with more resolve than ever before to work with families who have been impacted by violent crime as well as with mental health professionals, reform advocates, and people across the entire city.

SK: How do you plan to stay informed about and responsive to the needs of your community that you have not experienced first-hand?

CG: I think it’s important that my administration be made up of diverse people who are very different from me, not just by race, gender, sexual orientation, and age, but also by life experiences. I will include people who live in different parts of the city, are in different stages of their life, and are on different career paths. I want people who think differently and are passionate about Louisville, not just people who say yes.

In Louisville, there are 623 voting precincts, and I’m running through all of them. When I’m finished, I will have seen every corner of this city on foot. It’s been great getting to meet new people and seeing new parts of the city. I think that’s very important because Louisville is a geographically large city including urban, suburban, and rural areas, and it’s important to be a mayor for the whole city.

SK: In addition to being responsive to different interests in your constituency and bringing diverse perspectives to your administration, what else do you think are some important qualities of a mayor or of any elected official?

CG: A few things come to mind. First of all, listening. None of us have all of the answers or all of the best ideas. I think it’s important to listen and to be a leader who hires great people and empowers their team.

I also think transparency is critically important. Far too often, people are hiding information, and that never ends well. I want to run a very transparent administration even when it comes to information that doesn’t flatter the city or myself, because the public has the right to know. I believe that when mistakes are made, you acknowledge those mistakes, you tell the world about them, and you say, “Here’s what I’ve learned, and here are things that are going to be done differently.” I think people respect that more, and that’s going to help build trust.

In Louisville, like other cities around the country, people have lost trust in government and police, and that’s not healthy. I want to rebuild that trust with our police department and the city government so that we truly have a city that can be unified, as opposed to parts of it being divided, which is, unfortunately, the case right now.

SK: You seek to become mayor of a Democratic city in a Republican-dominated state. In what ways have these demographics affected your outlook on political culture and your campaign tactics?

CG: I think the blue city in the red state phenomenon means that we all must work together. Regardless of party, we need to collaborate to implement solutions for progress.

I think it’s important that I, as the Mayor of Louisville, establish strong relationships with state Republican leaders. We might disagree on a lot of things, and that’s okay, but there are certainly things that we agree on because there are many people in other parts of the state who want a strong Louisville. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know people across the aisle, whether they’re Republicans, Democrats or independents.

SK: What aspects of the campaigning process, in addition to obviously the assassination attempt, have been challenging or surprising for you?

CG: Right now, the political rhetoric is so heated on all sides. Social media has become a place where people really react so negatively with such heated language that it creates a tense environment, making it difficult for some people to realize there’s an opportunity to work together. I’m trying to focus on solutions, bring people together, lower the temperature, and use very clear language. I’m open-minded to new ideas. I’m excited about meeting new people, and I’m all about implementing solutions regardless of where they come from. Overall, I’ve really loved campaigning for office; it has been an amazing experience for my family and for me. I’ve met hundreds of new friends, learned so much about my city, and become a better person through the process.

SK: Throughout the past generation, what sort of overall effects has social media had on campaigning?

CG: Media has certainly changed a lot. When I was growing up, it was all about the 24-hour news cycle. Now, it’s not 24 seconds before something can go viral. There’s so much more information and, unfortunately, way more inaccurate information. 

One benefit of social media is that you, as a candidate, have an opportunity to connect with so many more people much quicker than you ever were able to before. For example, my sons have created a TikTok channel for our campaign, so I’ve been doing things that they say are funny, and it’s fun to show another side of myself.

SK: What has your experience with the Covid-19 pandemic taught you about effective local leadership in times of crisis?

CG: I’ve learned that people want a government that is constantly working to make their lives better. At the beginning of the pandemic, the most important thing was getting information out there, getting protective equipment out there, and ultimately getting the vaccines out there. In times of need, it is important to have a sense of urgency and act on it.

As the pandemic showed, not every initial idea was the ultimate solution, but that’s okay. I think we need to bring that same sense of urgency toward addressing Louisville’s violent crime crisis and homelessness situation. We have an affordable housing crisis in Louisville. We can help support and invest in our schools, and we can rebuild our downtown and other neighborhoods. There are a lot of areas where we need to bring the same sense of urgency that the city had with respect to fighting the pandemic.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.