Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Confederate monuments and compassion

Louisville mayor on social mobility

"Being a mayor is all about getting things done," said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. A Democrat in a state with a Republican governor, GOP-led statehouse and two Republican senators, Fischer has nonetheless succeeded enough to be named by Politico as the most innovative mayor in the country.

Louisville has added more than 63,000 jobs since he took office in 2011. Fischer is also working to increase the number of college graduates in the city and creating new job training programs.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. CBS News

Appearing on "CBS This Morning" Monday to discuss challenges facing America's cities (including the kind of ideologically charged violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend), Fischer said the biggest issue "in the cities, in the countryside and all over America is social mobility, jobs, what's happening to our middle class right now.

"It's being hollowed out. That's one of the reasons why you're seeing some of this hatred that's coming out in the streets, fear. They don't feel connected. They don't feel hope. They don't know where they fit in a rapidly changing global economy, so they don't know what to do.

"We need major system changes that involve everybody so they can have a hopeful path to the future."

"That's the rise of populism," co-host Charlie Rose said.

"We need to fight against that," Fischer replied. "After Brexit, after what happened here in our country, what we need to do is say, how can everybody participate meaningfully in a job that has a future to it where you can have dignity of work and support your family?"

In a statement Sunday following the rallies by white supremacists in Charlottesville and the resulting violence (including the death of a counter-demonstrator in an act of domestic terrorism), Fischer said:

"This is not the country we aspire to be -- and a strong nation recognizes its weaknesses, and continues to work and strive to be a more perfect union.

"We believe in diversity. We believe in inclusion. We believe in free speech, but not hate speech. We believe that the great American melting pot -- black, white, and brown -- is a strength that empowers us. We believe in taking hate and racism straight on. And we must turn these beliefs into actions of compassion, understanding, and unity."

"Louisville was the home of Muhammad Ali," Fischer said. "It was about a year ago when we laid him to rest, and we saw the whole world come together to celebrate this great man, values of compassion, confidence, spirituality. That's the United States of America. It's not what we saw in Charlottesville over the weekend. We condemn that type of activity.

"This is an easy one for all leaders to get up and say, 'This is not us.' The strength of America is our human values -- that's what we should be celebrating every day. Diversity is what makes us strong."

Confederate monuments have also been a focus of debate in Louisville. Last year, a 70-foot-tall monument honoring Confederate soldiers was removed from its site at the University of Louisville to the nearby town of Brandenburg.

"We had a peaceful discussion about [it] in our city," Fischer said. "We moved it to another location; we didn't destroy it."

On Sunday morning, following the violence in Charlottesville, a statue in a Louisville park of John Breckinridge Castleman (who served in both the Confederate Army during the Civil War and the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War) was vandalized with orange paint.

Fischer has called for any piece of public art that had potential connotations to slavery or racism to be identified, to discuss possibly moving them. "It is an important part of history but it needs to be in a proper context."

Fischer said that it is important that compassion be one of his city's basic values. "Compassion means respect for each and every one of our citizens so that their human potential is flourishing, thriving, shining like the sun, is what Thomas Merton said."

He also decried how divisive talk of ideology can derail progress. 

"America works best when we work together, right? So if you get all hung up on ideology like we see in the health care debate, for instance, people at the local level are not interested in that. When you take health care, we need more health care. We're a rich country. Eighteen percent of our GDP is spent on health care. Germany spends 10 percent, United Kingdom spends 8 percent. We need to figure out the cost issue so that more people have more coverage. That's what people are interested in. They're not interested in political ideology. That's a waste of time in the Main Streets of our cities."

To be a good mayor, Fischer said, "You have to have the head of a chief executive officer but the heart of a social worker."

With cities being the home of 85 percent of the U.S. population, and the source of over 90 percent of GDP, Fischer said mayors have to take care of business. "We don't see blue, we don't see red. We see opportunity," he said.

And when confronted with an issue like income inequality, his course of action, he said, is "you take it directly on in the workplace and ask yourself, what's happening in these jobs and what can we do as leaders to make sure there are jobs that have good solid middle class wages to them? The way we're doing it right now – with just a few people really winning and a lot of people losing -- is not the solution."

Previously on "American Voices":

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.