IL exit interview: Tina Ward-Pugh reflects on 16 years of serving Louisville and her new journey

The following is the last of several exit interviews with members of Metro Council who left their seats on Jan. 5. In this interview, we talk with Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, about the highs and lows of her time on both the Board of Aldermen and Metro Council, who will fill the hole she’s left on the council, and her future plans.

Ward-Pugh began serving on the Board of Aldermen in 1999 and Metro Council in 2003, and opted not to run for re-election this year. Democrat Bill Hollander began his term as District 7 councilman on Monday.

Former Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9

Former Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9

Insider Louisville: Throughout your 16 years on the Board of Aldermen and Metro Council, what are you most proud of accomplishing for Louisville?

Tina Ward-Pugh: One of the things I’m most proud of is that I helped shape more gender inclusive language in our legislative process and our daily conversation. Before I joined the Board of Aldermen in 1999, there were only aldermen, even though there were women who were serving on the board. So because elevating the status of women and girls is extremely important to me… it might not seem like much, but language is everything. So transferring that over, some of the councilwomen who were elected sort of had that expectation that they were going to be a councilwoman. It never crossed their minds that they would be a councilman. In our legislation, also, we went from “he this” and “he that,” to “he/she” or “they” – anything that we could to focus on being gender inclusive.

A few of the others might be the creation of the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund (LAHTF). I’m particularly proud of the smoking ban. Also what we did with the minimum wage. And of course the fairness ordinance would be in there…

CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) — the legislation that will lead to an ordinance – I was extremely proud of, because it means we’ll be able to start actually measuring and documenting how well our equity is in relation to women in Metro Government, how we’re doing and where we need to improve, and hopefully expanding that to vendors and beyond.

Project-wise, I would say the most significant thing we’ve accomplished is the Brownsboro Road sidewalk and the road diet through Clifton and Clifton Heights. That’s probably the most significant public project we’ve done. Of course, that took 12 years, but for blind folks it had been 30 years in the making.

IL: On the flip side, what are you most disappointed by, in terms of what Metro Council and Metro Government were not able to accomplish over that time?

TWP: I would say one of the most disappointing things is we didn’t get a dedicated source of revenue for the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund. And that we didn’t get a library tax. And that we abdicated our responsibility to legislate a plastic bag ban, and that another authority with that power decided to do it for us. Also, that we didn’t get, or haven’t yet gotten, a light rail or commuter rail or some sort of alternative mode of transportation to move us more toward multimodal transportation that would draw people downtown and away from our vehicles and our dependence on oil and gas and other nonrenewable sources of energy.

One of the things I’m disappointed about is the outcome of 8664. And that ties into all of my interests and energies around transportation issues. I absolutely support the Ohio River Bridges Project, and once the decision was made and the bridges got under construction, I’ve been supportive and will continue to be supportive. But I will say that I saw the lost opportunity to preserve our downtown and waterfront, and the opportunity for light rail and commuter rail, when we decided to build both bridges and not just the East End bridge. So 8664 for me was really a pivotal issue and initiative that for probably five years was everything we focused on and tried to get done and be forward thinking. But we just didn’t get that done … I’m not upset about that, but it could have gone very differently and much better for us.

IL: On the LAHTF, how confident are you that in future years the council and mayor will find a dedicated funding stream?

TWP: Well, I’m not sure that I have a level of confidence that they will. I would say the best odds I would give it today are 50/50. Historically, Democrats have been the only people willing to configure that sustainable source of revenue through a tax or a fee. And I will say there are just as many folks who are Democrats who are still there, but certainly not enough for 14 or 18 votes, should the mayor decide to veto that. I would say, too, though, that there is a lot of support on the Republican side for a source for the trust fund, there are just a different set of avenues to get there from Democrats. (The Republicans’ source) just doesn’t seem like it’s sustainable… it’ll be taking funds from some other place where they are sorely needed.

I’m appreciative that President (Jim) King and Democrats last year came up with $1 million in HOME funds, and recently the trust fund made some good announcements about how to utilize that and how it’s going to begin working for our community. But we’re back at square one here. That $1 million is dedicated at Habitat and River City (Housing), and there’s no new $1 million or any money in the pipeline to continue.

While I appreciate that (money), we have got to create more stabilized affordable housing in this community. I think there’s a genuine interest on everybody’s part, Republican and Democrat, to chip away at the lack of decent and affordable housing. There has just been little consensus about how to get there.

Some of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have said over the years that there’s plenty of affordable housing in the areas it’s needed – primarily they’re talking about the West End – but what I know is that affordable housing … must include something that’s decent. I’ve been in some of these rental properties and they’re not safe, and they’re not decent, and nobody should have to have that as the only choice for affordable housing. So it’s just kind of a misnomer to say there’s plenty of affordable housing when there isn’t. The housing stock that is out there is not inhabitable, therefore it’s not affordable. If you and your kids or grandkids wouldn’t sleep in there, or come home and take a shower there, or feel like you didn’t have to put bars on your windows – if you wouldn’t do that, then why would you expect somebody else to?

IL: In recent years, both you and Councilwoman Attica Scott have been the Democrats on council who have been the most likely to criticize or challenge the Democratic mayor whenever you disagreed with them – with you going back to Mayor Abramson. Who do you think fills that hole among the Democrats on Metro Council who aren’t afraid to buck the party leadership when there is disagreement?

TWP: That’s a good question. That’s a very good question…. You might think I’m off target here, but Cheri Bryant Hamilton comes to my mind. I’m not sure how vocal she’s going to be in her dissatisfaction. I want to say on some level that Bill Hollander might be, just because he and I share much of the same political perspective, and he is and has been a huge proponent of raising the minimum wage to $10.10… I expect Bill to publicly disagree with the mayor on issues. The trust fund, I believe he is absolutely 100 percent committed to a sustainable source of revenue. How we get there, and how vocal he is about where the mayor will end up on that, I guess that remains to be seen. But I expect him to speak out and for what he believes in if it differs.

Other than that, perhaps Brent Ackerson? I don’t know, I want to say Rick Blackwell? That’s really a tough one. I’m sad to say that’s a tough one. I’m not confident about that. I guess the top person on that list would be Bill Hollander for me.

And some of that has to do with finessing that level of public opposition and opinion-making… figuring out how to finesse that and create a level of public dissent from your mayor, which is difficult. And with me, over the last four years it has been particularly difficult, because I think Mayor Fischer has been a very good mayor. I’ve always tried – and was hopefully successful – to disagree and dissent publicly in a way that didn’t attack him or vilify him or dehumanize him. And I hope I did the same for Mayor Abramson, but in particular I love Mayor Fischer’s heart and I love his attitude about compassion and forward-thinking. But I just think that doing that and expressing that and being able to work with him the next day is something that all of the Metro Council members ought to consider when they are dissenting, in my opinion, whether you are a Democrat or Republican. Because tomorrow you’re going to have to work with him again and you won’t be able to.