LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer met with employees at Metro Public Works one last time before his final term in office ends.
“One of the first stops I made twelve years ago, with you all,” he said.
Fischer is no stranger to the Metro Public Works teams as winter weather and the daily needs of residents continually kept their work top of mind.
“You all have done an amazing job addressing the needs of our citizens, and in such an impactful way,” he said. “I know I’m stepping out as a metro employee on January 2 but if there’s anything I can ever do to help you all, I will be a supporter and a cheerleader my whole life."
Fischer granted WHAS11 access to join him as he visited several metro offices to thank the thousands of metro employees for their dedication and service as part of a "farewell tour."
“They are the ones that make the city work,” he told WHAS11's Eric King. “People take it for granted that everything works, and in a lot of cities it’s not that way. So, I’m very proud of our metro government employees.”
12 years leading Louisville
Fischer was first elected to the city's highest office 12 years ago. He admits, in those first days there was a bit of a learning curve to overcome.
“The important thing to me was, how strong the people in your system are,” he said. “For one person to think they’re making every decision is a real constraint to an organization. So, I would say to our directors, I expect you to be the best in the world at what you do.”
As Fischer arrived at a backup office for Metro Emergency Management, he spoke on the importance of collaborative leadership while walking into a building with a dozen of EMS employees waiting for him.
“You guys are very quiet,” he said. “That’s okay, because you’re very loud with your work. That’s why I wanted to come here and thank you for the incredible job that you’ve done over these last 12 years."
Fischer is the first and likely last three-term mayor of Louisville due to recent legislation. His 12 years at the helm of the city allowed him to operate with a unique perspective, exaggerated experience, and a fluid ability to speak to specific actions and accomplishments of various metro departments.
“I was particularly proud of you all in the Western Kentucky operation,” he told EMS employees who had performed search and rescue operations at the Mayfield Candle Factory after it had collapsed from a deadly EF-4 tornado.
“Louisville Metro showed up first without having to be asked. Who was put in charge of the most difficult job there? Louisville Metro," he said.
Fischer said if something intense happens in Kentucky, Louisville is there to help and never back down from a challenge.
"We do it and we do it really well," he said. "That’s just an incredible statement about who you all are, not how you just take care of business, but how you’re respected around the country as well.”
After leaving the EMS facility, Fischer rhetorically asks, “Can you imagine the stress these guys go through? And they’re doing it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they’re not paid enough. They’re not appreciated enough.”
Breonna Taylor protests amid historic pandemic
The city of Louisville faced several challenges in 2020 including civil unrest following the death of Breonna Taylor and a global pandemic.
"As people looked to you for leadership, you had to determine what leadership looked like in those moments," King said. "What did that effort look like for you?"
Fischer said it was "by far the toughest time” of his administration.
“People wanted me to be the judge, jury and executioner of police officers, when all of the facts weren’t there," he said. "Then, you’ve got 100 white nationalists showing up with assault rifles, black nationalists showing up with assault rifles, and caravans going through the city. It was a lot.”
Fischer said he's proud of metro government's team for sticking together through a very difficult time. Cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland are still recovering.
“Minneapolis burned down 500 buildings. Here, there were zero,” he said. “I know it made people uncomfortable, it’s designed to make people uncomfortable when it’s a 50-year racial protest. It should make people uncomfortable.”
An overarching theme of Fischer’s time in office has been centered around making Louisville a more compassionate city.
While he’s quick to point out that it’s a concept with no real finish line, he says the progress in the right direction isn’t just notable, it’s been a key factor in the effort to move forward past the pains of 2020.
“Obviously, we got through it,” Fischer said. “A lot of people were not happy with me at the time. Most people say, 'I don’t agree with everything you did, but I don’t know what I would’ve done differently.'"
Fischer said he's proud of how the city got through 2020.
"I’m thankful for Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, who’s been a real understanding woman who loves her daughter so much," he said. "She understood this bigger picture of how the city needs to get through times like this, while still seeking justice for her daughter."
“If we can get through that, we can get through anything,” Fischer said.
Fischer's term comes to a close
According to the mayor's office, in Fischer's 12-year tenure, 80,000 new jobs have been created, along with 3,000 new businesses.
The city has seen $24 billion in capital investment, 20,000 more Louisvillians now live above the poverty line, and there’s now a free college scholarship initiative for Jefferson County Public School students.
“We’ve had a Renaissance in our city in terms of our build environment with $24 billion,” Fischer said.
“After three terms, what is it you’re most proud of?" King asked.
“I ran for a third term because I wanted to get the Evolve 502 College Scholarship funded,” he said. “Now, every public school student has no tuition or financial barrier to a post-secondary degree or credential."
Fischer said one of the best ways to combat poverty is by making education more accessible in the community.
The final stop on this "farewell tour" was, fittingly, in Fern Creek where Fischer grew up. He offered one last message to the community.
“It’s been a real honor to be at the helm," he said. "I like to help people and I like to build highly capable organizations. So, I hope to have the opportunity to do that again. I think we’re all born with the ability to make a difference and help people, and that’s what drove me to be mayor in my hometown, the city that I love. It’s an unparalleled way to do that, but I hope I can find other ways to be able to make a difference in the future.”
Fischer said he will spend most of 2023 reflecting on his life and career, traveling, and spending time with his two grandchildren.