The following is fifth of eight exit interviews with members of Louisville Metro Council who will be leaving their seat in early January. In this interview, we talk with Councilman Vitalis Lanshima, D-21, about the highs and lows of his year on Metro Council and his future political aspirations. Lanshima was appointed to the seat last December after former Councilman Dan Johnson was kicked out of the council, and lost the Democratic primary for the district in May.
Insider Louisville: In your year on Metro Council, what are you most proud of accomplishing for Louisville?
Lanshima: One of the things I’m really proud of is working with the Beechmont Community Center. The center has been there for a very long time and has been neglected. So, bringing much attention to it, and even though I am not going to be in office when it’s completely renovated and has new equipment in there, I am very proud of the work that I’ve done with them. And they deserve all the money they got and I’m looking forward to going out there to work out.
I also just received a letter from the House of Ruth. They work with many residents of District 21 with HIV and I’ve been able to help them acquire new land. That’s something that I’m really, really excited about. And I’m looking forward to all the things that I helped with that are going to be happening that in the pipe right now. Hopefully they’ll get done.
IL: On the flip side of that, what would you say you’re most disappointed by in terms of what Metro Council or Metro Government was not able to accomplish over the past year?
Lanshima: My biggest disappointment would be the issue of homelessness in Louisville. That was an issue I kept in talking about. And I feel like we as a community have not been really serious about that issue. My first week in 2018 I had a meeting with the Coalition for the Homeless trying to recommend a new tough approach. We had some discussions that seemed very fruitful, and then we come back around and it seemed like everybody went back to their corners. And that was something I was disappointed about.
We have not done a lot for the less privileged in this community, especially for the homeless. And we need to take this really, really serious, because if we do not do anything about the homeless situation it is going to cost us dearly.
IL: Democrats expanded their Metro Council majority to 19-7 in last month’s elections and Mayor Greg Fisher won a third term by a wide margin. Why do you think the Democratic Party has been able to expand its political power here in Louisville?
Lanshima: I think most of what’s happened locally here in Louisville has to do with national politics. President Trump has been abysmal in the way he’s approached things and everyone he’s insulted. And our leadership in Kentucky has not been very helpful either. Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul have done a terrible job saying the truth about what’s happening. As a result, people who are wise and smart know that we have to move to one direction to ensure that we have a check on the system. And again, the Democratic Party had some quick candidates that stepped up and they ran some good campaigns.
IL: So the Democrats now have an even larger supermajority on the council. Hypothetically, they don’t even need Republican votes to really pass legislation. How do you think they should handle that type of power, having a majority that large, 19-7?
Lanshima: One thing I have learned on Metro Council, it is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is what is right for the community. You know, the priorities that west Louisville faces are much different than south Louisville or east Louisville. I know there are issues that Democrats in west Louisville can work with Republicans to ensure that they get those things done. And there are issues that Democrats in south Louisville will work with Republicans and vice versa working with everybody else. For instance, the homeless situation. Well, it used to be downtown and west Louisville and south Louisville. Now it’s crippling to east Louisville. The issue with gun violence, it is crippling for west Louisville to east Louisville. So it’s not about ignoring the Republicans.
One thing I have learned is working with people. Some of my good cheerleaders and people I work closely with here are Republicans. They are good people and they have good intentions and there is no reason why Democrats would move to their corners. There is no need to do that. I mean, locally we work really well. I mean, I’ve had some tense debates with our council members. For example, some extensive debates with Councilman Kramer. And there are some debates on which we are on the same side. The issue with Topgolf was one of them.
So I think we’ll make a huge mistake if Democrats feel like they will come to one corner and just work with Democrats and try to work with the the mayor to achieve certain goals. We cannot do those things. And one of those things that will be on the agenda today (Dec. 13) is to ensure transparency with the mayor’s office. I agree with the mayor that some of our prospects should not be made public. At the same time, I told the office to be more proactive in releasing that information to the public, because that is very important. So we cannot say where we are Democrats and we are going to vote for the mayor and conceal that information. It’s about right and wrong as far as I’m concerned.
IL: The Democratic caucus has been known in recent years — and you know this as well as anyone else — for some pretty vicious infighting. What do you think is the cause of that?
Lanshima: A lot of egos. A lot of egos. And I think people are concerned about personal relationships rather than doing what is right. If we really take the business of Louisville seriously, then we are going to ignore our relationships. We’ll have those friendships, but we keep our focus on the right thing and do what is always the right thing to do. And I think we have our egos and at the same time we have friendships that we want to preserve. So looking at something like an issue objectively and dealing with it that way. I think it’s a huge mistake that we’re making.
I mean, there are some new people coming in here who I’m sure will not take that crap. There are some people that are coming in — about seven new Democrats coming in — and I think some of those people are young folks who know what is right and what is wrong. And that we should care less about those personal relationships.
I mean, there are some good people with the Democratic Party caucus. There are some good people, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, there are people who have their own agenda. And that is unacceptable. You do what you want to do and you move on. I mean, I wake up every day thinking about what I wanted to do today to improve myself and improve the quality of life for the people. And that is what it should be about. It should not be about how can I make my friend better. How can I preserve my friendship with somebody else. I mean, you can do those things, but not at the risk of doing the right thing.
IL: Do you have any advice for Councilwoman-elect Nicole George, who will be coming in and taking over the District 21 seat?
Lanshima: Talk to people.
IL: What do you plan on doing now?
Lanshima: I plan on going to Nigeria to go run a strong campaign and hopefully become the next House of Representatives member in Jos North and Bassa.
IL: When do you plan on leaving?
Lanshima: I plan to leave next week. (This interview was conducted on Dec. 13)
IL: Do you think you’ll ever run for office here in Kentucky again?
Lanshima: This is not my last office in Kentucky. Period. I’m in this unique situation because I cross continents, and that does not prevent me from doing something else here. Right now I have a calling to go take care of some business back home in Nigeria and I want to do that. But it’s not going to be the last you hear of me.
I’ll probably run for office. If not, working in Kentucky in some public capacity. I’m 41 years old, I have 40 years ahead of me.