How to Start a Movement

I think I saw a movement start this weekend.

The New Kentucky Project hosted its first Ideas Conference yesterday in Lexington. I’m honored to serve on the Project’s Executive Board, but even insiders had no better expectation than most other attenders what the event would deliver.  We certainly didn’t expect that a sellout crowd of 600 people who didn’t know each other would spend a cold Saturday gathering to remind ourselves that we can build a better future together.

Several speakers captured the day’s theme: new ideas that appeal to people of all stripes because they appeal to universal values, new ideas framed outside the paralyzed and hostile terms of current debates, and new ideas that matter equally to people in rural and urban Kentucky.   Here are a few examples:

  • Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley (the youngest of 120 county judges in Kentucky) talked honestly about opiate addiction. When he asked audience members to stand if we had been directly or indirectly affected by substance abuse, at least ¾ of us did so (I was one of them). This issue affects Republicans and Democrats equally. When Judge Mosley then told us that only 10% of his neighbors who seek addiction treatment can get it . . . well, what can you say to that? It called on our shared values for action.
  • From the other side of the Commonwealth, Henderson County Attorney Steve Gold shared his vision for making his constituents safer without simply “throwing the book” at them – in his terms, a “cure” that would be worse than the disease.   He uses practices of restorative justice because “if we get juvenile justice right we don’t have to worry about adult justice.” Who wouldn’t sign up for that?
  • State Rep. Chris Harris (from Pikeville) made a bold call to something anyone who is not an entrenched politician can rally around: nonpartisan redistricting. He almost got a standing ovation, and uncovered a promising idea for the future. Incumbents have protected themselves in a way that drives voters apart and made parties less relevant to the average Kentuckian, especially if you agree (as NKP co-founder Matt Jones does) that 80% of Kentuckians agree on 80% of the issues.  Maybe the politicians who recognize that will end up as winners (with the rest of us) in the future.
  • State Rep. James Kay (from central Kentucky) gave a passionate talk about student loans, an issue that affects just about everyone. James made the point that defunding public education has created $1.2 trillion in student debt. Given the importance of education as a public asset, student debt has become, in effect, a public debt. In his great phrase, “We are selling education to our children, not providing it.” What a great way to rethink an issue we should all agree on.

We aren’t spending much time talking about these four issues – juvenile justice, opiate addiction, redistricting, and student debt – even though they affect us as much as any of the issues that do distract and divide us.  I’m grateful to these  four leaders, and a host of others, who showed 600 Kentuckians that we can rally around a positive vision for the future and work for it together.

Movements are both exciting and delicate, and it’s too early to know where this one will go. I’m confident that Adam Edelen and Matt Jones (the co-founders of the New Kentucky Prorecognize that this one will succeed only if they let others own it and move it along; I’m excited to support that process.


Local Food Projects Can’t Succeed if We Expect them to Solve Every Problem

Almost all American cities are asking how they can eat more food that has been grown by farmers who live nearby.  We all want the resulting benefits, from greater food security and an elevated tax base to healthier soil, water and people.  But no American city has yet answered that question, at least not on a large-scale or in a sustainable way.

In cities all over the country there are exciting projects underway, but it’s not always clear which ones are addressing issues in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Our own excitement about the local food movement sometimes results in a lack of clarity about what is actually working – or not.  An added challenge: instead of encouraging each project to succeed on its own terms, people who are passionate about local food sometimes expect individual projects to solve problems they aren’t even trying to tackle.

Even Great Projects Can’t Solve Every Problem

Recently, a project in Detroit has garnered a lot of attention. The Agrihood is a mixed-use development and neighborhood center built around a 2-acre farm.  Produce from the farm is given away to local non-profits.

The Agrihood is an exciting project, but I don’t completely agree with its self-description as “America’s first sustainable urban agrihood.”  It may be built with “sustainable” products; it may help “sustain” the neighborhood around it; it may even practice “sustainable” agriculture, but it will require ongoing charitable support to survive. It does not make the production of local food a more sustainable business.

One article contends that the Detroit Agrihood might solve a staggering range of problems: “[P]erhaps other communities will look to this agrihood as a model to increase healthy, local food and to solve community problems, like hunger and access to fresh food — all while giving people a greater sense of community and happiness, creating more sustainability for cities, and improving our food system.”

That’s a lot of responsibility to put on one project. Even the Agrihood’s developers don’t claim it will solve all of these problems; they appear focused on using a small urban farm as a tool in responsible development, strengthening one neighborhood in Detroit.  We should let them do just that.

Then there is the fad of Food Halls (as in Chelsea Market in New York or Revival Food Hall in Chicago.)  Because they are often built in gentrifying parts of town that may still include food deserts, some people are asking how food halls will create better access to fresh, local food for their food-insecure neighbors.

A recent article in Civil Eats, for example, asks about a project in Birmingham, Alabama: “Can a New Food Hall Transform a Food Desert?”

What a question. The first goal of a Food Hall is not to transform a Food Desert, but to create a sustainable business.

The director of one Birmingham non-profit also concludes that food hall pricing is a mismatch for food-insecure citizens, but acknowledges that the food hall might encourage more restaurants to buy local, “The different restaurants that farms could connect to at the same time could serve as a unified drop-off point [and might] lower price point hurdles and other time and capacity hurdles that sometimes keep restaurants from buying from local farms.”

This is the right answer.

Local Food Businesses Need to Focus — and we Need to Support Focused Businesses.

Businesses that succeed – and profitability is the ultimate source of sustainability – usually adopt a single business model.  If we want businesses in the local food industry to become sustainable we have to let them focus.  We cannot measure them based on whether they solve the problems of every other business (or non-profit), but based on how they contribute to the overall goal of increasing the amount of food people can buy from regional farmers.

No city will succeed at this goal if we keep confusing projects – asking a neighborhood center to solve hunger, or asking a gourmet food hall to reverse food injustice.  Such confusion (which can sometimes seem like a resistance to shared goals) not only puts those individual businesses at risk, but poses a more serious risk that we might someday look back on this movement to make a better world as nothing more than a fad of early 21st Century America.

Endorsed by Denise Harper Angel

Denise Harper AngelThank you to District 8 resident and State Senator Denise Harper Angel for endorsing my campaign for Metro Council!

In the words of Senator Harper Angel, a strong progressive leader: “Stephen Reily has been standing up for Louisville’s women and families for 20 years. I know he will do the same on Metro Council.”

Who I am – #1 Fundraiser or Not

The Courier-Journal today reported that I have raised more money than any other candidate in this Metro Council race.  It’s true.  In the reporting period ending March 31 I raised more than 75% more dollars from outside contributors than any other candidate.

But some comments suggested that money is the answer – or that I think so.

Money can’t buy votes – just look at Jeb Bush. A 100-day race in a crowded field requires hard work AND resources, and I am deeply grateful for the broad and deep base of support I have attracted, from 40% more individual donors than any other candidate received. Just as I’m grateful for the endorsements I’ve also received, from C-FAIRLouisville Professional Firefighters Local #345Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Crit Luallen.

For those of you who don‘t know me – or know me only because of my amazing wife Emily Bingham, whose family’s legacy I deeply respect – or who don’t know how hard I worked to become a Supreme Court clerk and successful entrepreneur, here’s where I came from:

I grew up as the youngest child in a big blended family. The three most important influences were my parents and my paternal grandmother.

My grandmother was the second woman in the 20th Century to win the Times-Picayune “Loving Cup” awarded to citizen leaders for unselfish service; that service included leading the League of Women Voters of the U.S. and efforts to reform politics in New Orleans in the 1930s and beyond. My father learned his independence from his mother. Primarily a businessman, he was tolerant and respectful of others in an age when many of his peers were not; an award-winning athlete himself, he never imposed expectations on his five sons to follow the paths he chose. He always told people what he thought. My mother modeled a life of service and looking out for people whom others were ignoring. Always sensitive and generous to underdogs, she volunteered with the homeless, the intellectually disabled, and AIDS patients. She led our state mental health organization when it forced the State of Louisiana to reform its own state mental health hospital. She built a health clinic in one of our most vulnerable neighborhoods. She did all this with a consoling and uplifting spirit.

I was raised to work hard, to give back, to embrace strong positions, and to remain always open to the perspective of people from every background.

That is why I am running for Metro Council. That is why I spent another 6 hours today knocking on doors and asking my neighbors in District 8 about their lives and needs – and asking for their support.

And that is why I’m getting it.

Thank you.

Endorsed by the Sierra Club!

Sierra Club Endorsement Photo

I am very grateful to the members of the Kentucky Sierra Club for entrusting me with their endorsement as the next Metro Council member for District 8. I have spent more than 20 years here advocating for responsible development and for sustainability, and making my own long-term investments in the same causes, at home, at the West Louisville FoodPort, and elsewhere. I hope to honor this endorsement by focusing on three primary goals on Metro Council:

  • A Greener Budget. Metro Council should spend less time reacting to individual line items in the Mayor’s budget than focus on its overarching goals. As a Metro Council member I would work with others to focus on the strategy underlying the Mayor’s budget, looking for a bolder vision – and then a bigger budget – on investments in health and sustainability. At the Greater Louisville Project, whose Policy Board I have chaired for 6 years, we use data to measure Louisville against its peer cities. I would do the same on sustainability. We cannot build a healthier city for the 21st Century – much less identify ourselves as a leader among cities – if our investments in sustainability do not match or exceed our peers. If Louisville fails that grade I will call attention to it, and work to make us a city that uses its financial resources in a way that honors our natural resources.
  • A Healthy City for Everyone. The disparities in health outcomes and life expectancy in Louisville depend far too much on where you are born and live. I would focus on two issues in particular:
    • Air quality. Ted Smith, Louisville’s Chief Innovation Office and Director of the Institute for Healthy Air, Soil & Water has led efforts to develop effective monitoring tools for air quality; the Metro Council now needs to demand action (and direct resources) to improve those metrics. Every child should grow up breathing clean air in Louisville.
    • Tree canopy. We now know the sad statistics on tree loss and heat islands in Louisville. Metro Council needs to support a no-net-loss policy on tree loss and a dramatic increase in trees where our heat islands are the hottest. At the West Louisville FoodPort we will plant hundreds of trees on what is now a barren brownfield; we will build a 2-acre demonstration farm for the Jefferson County Extension to operate; and we are looking for partners to develop a nursery to grow native trees for planting in West Louisville, creating job opportunities and cleaner air at the same time. We need to require other developers to do the same.
  • Citizen Engagement. If you give people information and a chance to shape their own future, they will choose a greener and more sustainable future. As a Metro Council member, I will use, encourage, and enable a fully engaged base of citizens in shaping their own future in the Highlands. I want to connect all of my neighbors and the neighborhood associations and small cities of District 8 on a Master Plan for Bardstown Road (the backbone of our district) that incorporates world-class ideas for parking, public transportation, pedestrian safety, trees, and utilities – and I am confident that an open and transparent process will help citizens develop a future they are proud to own. I will encourage Metro Louisville and Develop Louisville to adopt similar practices. Civic leaders sometimes appear to think that progress and citizen engagement are in opposition. I disagree, and I believe that it is easier than ever (primarily through technology) to promote civic engagement and to make Louisville a model city where informed citizens can shape their own future.

Please join me in building a more sustainable Louisville that honors its natural beauty and lives up to its potential as a leading city of the 21st Century!

Proud and grateful

635935377390166446-foodportviewThe Courier-Journal reported today that Seed Capital Kentucky and Mayor Greg Fischer signed a development agreement that officially makes way for work to begin on the $56 million West Louisville Food Port.

I’m proud and grateful for our many, many partners in this work, including the people of Russell, Shawnee and Portland, Mayor Greg Fischer, and a world-class model of public service on the Metro Council, Cheri Bryant Hamilton.

A job fair is scheduled for April 26 to fill positions for carpenters, electricians, laborers, landscapers, and other late summer construction jobs on the project.

Making your vote count


With the election primary fast approaching, several people I’ve met walking the Highlands have asked me how to go about registering to vote on May 17th. This post is intended to answer those questions and provide a guidemap to voter-related resources.

Can I still register to vote in the primary as a new voter? Yes! If you’ve never registered to vote before, you have until April 18th to do so.*

Can I still vote in the primary if I recently moved to District 8? Yes! If you’ve recently moved, or if your name has changed recently, you have until April 18th to register.

Can I vote in the primary if I turn 18 near election day? Yes! Kentucky’s election laws allow you to vote in the primary if you are 17 but will turn 18 on or before November 8, 2016 (the date of the general election).

Can I change your party registration from Republican to Democrat in order to vote in the primary on May 17th? Sorry, no. In order to change parties for this primary, you must have done so by December 31, 2015.

How do I register? It’s easy! Registration can be done in person or by mail with the Jefferson County Clerk or online through the Kentucky Secretary of State.

What if I will be out of town on election day? Voters who will be outside the county on Election Day may vote in person at the Election Center, 810 Barret Avenue, Room 103, by 4:30 PM on Monday, May 16th.

Can I vote by absentee ballot? Maybe. At this time, an absentee vote ballot can only be mailed to a Jefferson County address if the voter is either (1) unable to go to the polls because of age, disability or illness, or (2) required by his/her job to be out of town during the election. I understand that the Kentucky General Assembly is considering making it possible for anyone to vote by absentee ballot who wishes to.

How do I request an absentee ballot? Voters may request an absentee ballot by phone, fax or email with the Jefferson County Clerk. The last day that the Election Center can accept a completed Mail-In Absentee Ballot application is by close of business, seven (7) days before the Election. (5:00pm, May 10, 2016).

* You may register to vote in the primary so long as you: 1. Are a native-born or naturalized U.S. citizen who is 18 years old by the general election. 2. Are a resident of Jefferson County at least 28 days before election. 3. Are not a convicted felon. 4. Have not been judged “mentally incompetent” in a court of law. 5. Do not claim the right to vote outside Kentucky.

Happy voting!