Who are the most influential people in Kentucky? Here are 20 to watch in 2020.January 9, 2020
This article originally appeared in the Courier Journal.
The driving force behind every great city is a patchwork of passionate, invested and roll-up-the-sleeves kind of influencers determined to make a difference in the place they call home.
A few weeks before we flipped the calendars to 2020, The Courier Journal asked for nominations of notable individuals who are giving back, taking charge, contributing in large measures and are committed to the advancement of metro Louisville.
Who are 20 people we should be watching in 2020? we asked.
We were slammed with dozens and dozens of nominations.
After much vetting and lots of conversations (even a debate or two) we are proud to introduce you to 20 individuals we will be watching closely in this new year.
Some are familiar names who have been in the headlines. Others are quietly fighting for important causes in this city, Southern Indiana and across our commonwealth. Their names may be new to you.
Many will leave their mark in 2020 by working diligently behind the scenes, away from the glare of cameras and reporters.
Those cracking this year’s “20 to Watch” list are impressive: They’re athletes, politicians, a filmmaker, business leaders, nonprofit powerhouses, entrepreneurs and dreamers.
They’re in the ballpark, at the United Nations, on campus, in the U.S. Senate, in local churches and in the executive suite. They fight for equality, give comfort to cancer survivors, train for the Olympics, protect some of our state’s most vulnerable and lead a movement that inspires us by its very name: “I Am Great.”
Louisville, undoubtedly, is a great city – determined to be even better in the new year.
Here are 20 individuals doing their best to make that happen.
We’re watching: Jo Adell
Here’s why: After three seasons in the minor leagues, the 2017 Ballard High School grad looks to be on schedule to make his major league debut with the Los Angeles Angels in 2020. The 20-year-old Adell may start the season at Triple-A Salt Lake, but Angels fans already are dreaming of the day Adell — the Angels’ No. 1-ranked prospect — will join star Mike Trout in the outfield.
Why 2020 is important: A first-round draft pick by the Angels in 2017, it’s time for Adell to start producing in the major leagues sooner rather than later. He’s battled some injuries since going pro but showed his promise over 76 minor league games in 2019, hitting .289 with 10 home runs, 36 RBIs, seven stolen bases and an OPS of .834. Depending on how the Angels’ outfield situation takes shape during the offseason, Adell could be in the major leagues as early as May.
What others say: “The cover athlete on our January issue of the Baseball America magazine, Jo Adell has everything you could ask of a top prospect, with some of the loudest tools in the game and both the skill and work ethic necessary to tap into that talent at the major league level,” Baseball America national writer Carlos Collazo said. “Adell is one of the must-watch young players in baseball in 2020, as he should make his major league debut with the Angels, where he’ll provide an impact bat, big power and defensive prowess with the glove. He is the best prospect in the game suited to capably playing the outfield alongside baseball’s best player, Mike Trout.”
What Adell says: “2020 is the biggest year of my life. My goals are different. They’re bigger than myself. I want to make a real impact in the big leagues. I’m not talking about a call-up. I’m not talking about a stat line, either. I’m talking about helping win games. Big games. I’m talking about the type of impact that gets the fans jacked up. Anaheim preparing for the postseason in 2020 and helping them do it is my goal. Everything I’ve done since my senior year at Ballard has been in preparation for this year. Unlike the other years, 2020 is the year I come into my own. My preparation, discipline and relentlessness is what I pride myself on. The lifting, sprint work and dieting this offseason has been pushed to new limits. I’m faster and stronger than I’ve ever been and far from done. That’s what I’m about. I won’t walk into a year unprepared. I can’t predict the outcome of the 2020 season. But when I say this year will be my most prepared yet, I’m not lying.”
We’re watching: Neeli Bendapudi
Here’s why: As U of L’s president, Bendapudi is responsible for guiding the university’s academic and research missions as well as overseeing its growing health care operation. She hasn’t shied away from making high-profile, high-stakes decisions, including the admittedly risky move in 2019 — with the support of U of L’s trustees — to acquire the financially struggling Jewish Hospital as well as other local KentuckyOne Health facilities. And she remains focused on expanding the university’s efforts to eliminate barriers to its students’ success, including plans to provide more support for students dealing with mental health challenges and more financial aid for students who come from poorer backgrounds.
Why 2020 is important: Next year, U of L will really get rolling on its ambitious plan to turn around Jewish Hospital, which has lost millions of dollars in recent years and was on the brink of closing until the university stepped in to buy it. Bendapudi isn’t expecting miraculous improvements overnight, but she is determined to help the historic hospital continue to provide much-needed care to patients over the long term.
What others say: “Dr. Neeli Bendapudi has become an integral part of our community in a relatively short period of time. She is the rare visionary leader who is also quite capable of implementing her vision,” said board chairwoman Linda Schuster of the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence. “She has tackled some of the most pressing and challenging issues facing the university and has proven to be a prescient leader. I’m confident she will continue to face future challenges with the same wisdom and insights as she has already done.”
What Bendapudi says: “In 2020, you can expect us to not rest on our laurels but to continue driving forward toward our goal of being an even greater place to learn, to work and in which to invest. In the new year, we will increase our focus on experiential learning, student mental health and providing greater access to student financial aid.”
Gov. Andy Beshear
We’re watching: Gov. Andy Beshear
Here’s why: Andy Beshear pulled off arguably the biggest win for national Democrats last year after edging out Republican Matt Bevin by about 5,100 votes. He ran a disciplined campaign that ignored President Donald Trump’s popularity in the state and instead focused primarily on Kentuckians’ pocketbook concerns, such as health care and public education.
Why 2020 is important: Now comes the hard part, which is accomplishing an agenda with GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Beshear’s immediate task will be crafting a tight budget that will require balancing campaign promises, such as a costly teacher pay hike, while avoiding deep cuts. The governor is going to have to find a way to fund state pensions, as well, which he believes is best done by allowing expanded gaming.
What others say: “The election is over, Andy Beshear has won. … He ran a really smart campaign, and I respect him for it. I worked with his dad on issues and am sure we can find areas of common ground. Let’s get to work,” said state Sen. Damon Thayer, the Republican floor leader.
What Beshear says: “A budget is a values statement. That’s why you’ll see us prioritize funding for education, health care and pensions. But, there is no denying we need more revenue. We need to pass expanded gaming in Kentucky. We lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars a year. We need to legalize sports betting, casinos, fantasy sports and prepare for online poker, and use the revenue from these activities as a dedicated funding stream for our public pension system, which will free up that money for other things we need to be investing in.”
Attorney General Daniel Cameron
We’re watching: Attorney General Daniel Cameron
Here’s why: Republican Daniel Cameron made history to become Kentucky’s first black attorney general when he easily defeated Democrat Greg Stumbo. He is gaining national attention as a rising GOP star who has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s backing and the attention of Trump. He is already being touted as a potential U.S. Senate candidate in 2026.
Why 2020 is important: Just as Democratic attorneys general have vexed the state’s two most recent Republican governors, many will be watching to see if Cameron uses the AG’s office as a check on Beshear in the same way the former AG did with former Gov. Bevin.
What others say: “Mr. Cameron is now the leader of the GOP in Kentucky, and his future seems bright. He is one of the most charismatic and down-to-earth politicians in the game, and is certain to be offered a prime-time speaking slot at the August 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.,” said CNN contributor Salena Zito.
What Cameron says: “As chief law enforcement officer for the commonwealth, I have a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless, to fight on behalf of our law enforcement community, and to serve Kentuckians each day.”
We’re watching: Kevin Cogan
Here’s why: Cogan, the developer of the One Park project, has for years pushed for approval of his $200 million-plus mixed-use development to transform the 3.5-acre triangle near Cherokee Park. A rezoning request for the development was approved in December by Louisville Metro Council, clearing a hurdle that means his team can move forward with its plans. Supporters of the development say it will improve an eyesore plot of land, bordered by Lexington Road, Grinstead Drive and Etley Avenue, and make Louisville more competitive with cities like Nashville, Tennessee, or Austin, Texas.
Why 2020 is important: With the planning commission and Metro Council benchmarks behind him, Cogan and his team will embark on what he called the “sophisticated” design of the project — moving from renderings and conceptualizations to detailed drawings. That will let the team refine its engineering and accurately price the project. He expects a construction and groundbreaking timeline to be announced in late 2020 or early 2021.
What others say: “Kevin is a visionary. To bring a major infill project like One Park to Louisville was a bold move, and GLI put its full support behind it. We look forward to watching how Kevin will lead this project, which will help the region attract talent and compete effectively with its peer cities that already have these types of developments,” said Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, Greater Louisville Inc.’s chief operating officer and chief of staff, who has been tapped to serve as CEO of the chamber of commerce, pending board approval in January.
What Cogan says: “It’s the patience of watching a fondue rise. It takes a lot of love and a lot of attention to detail, but from our perspective, we have to focus on each portion with total focus and energy. If you’re not successful on that one portion, the end portion won’t succeed either. We’ve been very successful over what we accomplished in the last year — the next 12 to 24 months will be very exciting.”
We’re watching: Mallory Comerford
Here’s why: One of the most decorated athletes to ever compete at Louisville, Comerford is a member of the USA Swimming National Team and a four-time NCAA gold medalist. She graduated in December from the university, capping an incredible collegiate run, athletically and academically. Comerford is a three-time ACC swimmer of the year and a nine-time ACC champion. On the global stage, she swam on the American record-setting 4×100-meter freestyle relay and broke three American records at the 2018 Short Course World Championships, while also swimming on two world-record setting relay teams.
Why 2020 is important: All of Comerford’s accomplishments have been building toward the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In the 2019 FINA World Championships, she collected two silver medals and two gold medals, and set a world record on the mixed 4×100-meter freestyle relay. The Olympic swim trials are June 21-28 in Omaha, Nebraska. Comerford is competing in the new International Swimming League with the Cali Condors in preparation for the trials with an Olympic berth in view.
What others say: “Mallory’s improvement curve since arriving at U of L has been steep. Besides being a student of our sport with phenomenal work ethic, she is a tough competitor who loves a good challenge,” said Arthur Albiero, Louisville’s swimming coach. “She has been one of the premier freestylers in the US, but nothing is given at the U.S. trials. We are preparing to help her have her best chance in Omaha. That is our only focus at the moment.”
What Comerford says: “As 2020 begins and my final preparations for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials start, all I can think about is how grateful I am to be in this position. I have been extremely fortunate to be a part of such a special athletic department, university and community. The continuous support that I have received has allowed me to flourish in the sport that I love. Though this summer I have a chance of qualifying for the Olympics, my mission is still the same — finding a way to get a little better each day. My goal is to enjoy the process and to make the most out of getting to do what I love.”
We’re watching: Kelly Craft
Here’s why: At this turbulent time in international affairs, a Kentuckian sits in the Trump administration’s No. 2 foreign policy post. She’s United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft. A Lexington native and wife of coal magnate Joe Craft, the ambassador has nevertheless promised to be “an advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change.” This isn’t the 57-year-old’s first go-around at the U.N. In 2007, she served as an alternate delegate under President George W. Bush. And until she was confirmed as U.N. ambassador in September, Craft was also President Trump’s ambassador to Canada. In that post, Craft helped deliver a new free trade agreement among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. The U.S. House of Representatives ratified that deal, known as the USMCA, in December.
Why 2020 is important: This will be Craft’s first full year as ambassador to the U.N. She will face the threat of Russian interference in U.S. affairs, an increasingly aggressive Iran, delicate trade negotiations with China, and a destabilized Venezuela, among other challenges. So far, Craft has already distinguished herself in the role by being tough on Iran. She recently pointed to evidence that Iran is arming its proxies in the Middle East and said the U.S. would not “sit idly by while Iran continues to destabilize the region.” Craft has also been vocal in her support for gay rights. “No person should be harmed, tortured or killed because of their sexual orientation, yet at least 69 countries criminalize homosexuality,” she tweeted recently after a special meeting urging U.N. leaders to expand protections for gay people.
What others say: “Kelly has a unique ability to find common ground and relate to each and every person she meets. She is an effective negotiator, as demonstrated through her good work that resulted in the USMCA trade agreement. She has strong principles and is diplomatic always. She consistently uses her skills for good and shines our country’s light brightly on the world stage,” said Jennifer Barber, a Frankfort native who was recently nominated to represent the U.S. on the U.N. Economic and Social Council and serve as Craft’s alternate.
What Craft says: “I am deeply honored to represent the United States at the U.N., and to be the first Kentuckian in that role. Guided by President Trump’s bold vision, I work at the U.N. to protect our nation’s security and promote American values. We face a great many challenges in today’s complex world, but the constant is strong American leadership. I wake every day determined to do the right thing, and then the next right thing after that. My faith and family give me all the strength I need to be a force for good on the global stage.”
Dr. Melissa Currie
We’re watching: Melissa Currie
Here’s why: As chief of the University of Louisville Division of Forensic Pediatrics, Dr. Currie oversees some of the state’s most severe and complicated cases of suspected child abuse. Her division provides complete forensic evaluations of cases, an essential tool to social service officials in deciding whether to remove children from homes and for police and prosecutors seeking to decide whether to bring criminal charges. She was a founding member of the state’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel, created in 2012 to provide independent oversight of cases in which children die or are critically injured from suspected abuse or neglect. Currie was the first board-certified child abuse pediatrician in Kentucky, a group that now includes four, two at U of L and two at the University of Kentucky.
Why 2020 is important: Kentucky has the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the nation. Currie, as a founding member of the Kosair Charities Face It campaign to eliminate child abuse in the region, will continue to work with the group to expand efforts to educate the public about the warning signs of abuse. She is also a key member of the independent panel that will continue to look for ways to reduce child abuse deaths and injuries.
What others say: “Her reputation is just stellar,” said Roger Crittenden, a retired Franklin Circuit judge who served as chairman of the child abuse panel for seven years. Currie has been an important witness in Frankfort about child protection, he said. “The legislators have tremendous respect for her.”
What Currie says: “I hope that we continue to make strides in community education regarding early warning signs of abuse and recognition and reporting. I hope that the Face It campaign continues to grow and sees some legislative success in the spring.”
We’re watching: Cathe Dykstra
Here’s why: As chief possibility officer for the Family Scholar House, Dykstra helps families break the cycle of poverty through education and supports. The five Family Scholar House campuses provide stable housing and child care while single parents earn college degrees. Families outside of the residential program have access to a host of services, including academic and career coaching, life skills and job shadowing. Over 500 people have earned degrees while in the program.
Why 2020 is important: 2020 may be the first year that over 100 scholars graduate with a degree in a single year, Dykstra says. That’s more than 100 families’ lives changed. Dykstra says to also expect Family Scholar House to grow its regional reach and national ties, potentially adding more satellite offices throughout Kentucky.
What others say: “Breaking the cycle of poverty is a game changer. Lives are transformed and our entire community benefits. Cathe Dykstra is a phenomenon, working tirelessly to fill a void,” said volunteer Paula Head.
What Dykstra says: “We strengthen communities by strengthening the people. … I’m proud of the work we’re doing and eager for us to serve more people.”
We’re watching: Matt Gibson
Here’s why: For 2020, Gibson has assumed the position of CEO and president of the Kentucky Derby Festival, taking over the role previously held by Mike Berry for 22 years. In his new role, Gibson is responsible for more than 70 community events, starting with Thunder Over Louisville, one of the largest fireworks and air shows in the country. He first joined the staff as an event manager in 1997 and quickly moved up the ranks to director of operations, then vice president of events before serving on the Senior Leadership Team. He was named CEO in October 2019.
Why 2020 is important: With Gibson at the helm, 2020 will be a new era for the Kentucky Derby Festival. It’s the first change of leadership for the organization in more than 20 years. Gibson has led the festival’s events and operations since 2003, and while he already knows the events inside and out, he wants to know even more and is commissioning a large-scale perception study in 2020, the results of which will help shape the KDF of the future.
Gibson has lots of big ideas for the festival in 2020 and moving into the future. One of his most passionate goals is to continue to break down barriers within the community. To that end, Gibson and a KDF volunteer spent a weekend at the Kentucky Derby Festival office actually tearing down walls that separate the offices on the upper floor in order to create a more open and collaborative environment.
What others say: “One of the things Matt brings to the Kentucky Derby Festival is an incredible energy, in a very event-driven way,” said Berry. “He’s a person who will look at events and program and add a new energy and a fresh twist.”
What Gibson says: “This truly is a lifelong dream. My job at the Kentucky Derby Festival has always been a labor of love, and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Gibson said. “I’ve always believed more heads are better than one. I look to our staff and our partners to help us develop the true vision of the Kentucky Derby Festival — and continue the growth of our organization and the tradition that’s brought this community together for more than 60 years.”
We’re watching: Chris Hartman
Here’s why: In his 11 years as director of the Fairness Campaign, Chris Hartman has helped boost the number of Kentucky cities with anti-discrimination LGBTQ Fairness Ordinances from three to 16. These laws prohibit LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, and they’ve been implemented in cities as large as Louisville and in towns as small as Appalachia’s Vicco. Hartman and the Fairness Campaign’s overall goal is statewide fairness.
Why 2020 is important: Hartman has set a goal of upping the number of fairness ordinances throughout the state to 20 by the end of 2020, and he’s hoping that implementing that kind of local awareness serves as a tipping point for statewide LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. 2020 is also an election year, so Hartman and the campaign have the opportunity to endorse candidates that will support fairness legislation in the capital.
What others say: “Chris is the best. He is so authentic,” said state Rep. Attica Scott. “… It’s his tenacity and his willingness to keep pushing onward and to reach across multiple sectors that make the fairness campaign so successful. … I am absolutely confident in 2020, he and the fairness campaign will reach his goal.”
What Hartman says: “It’s important. It’s imperative. I’ve had the opportunity in my life to stand up for the things I believe in and to speak about them restlessly, and I think that anyone who has that opportunity should seize it. … I am acutely aware of the work that’s left to be done. It’s marvelous that we have these 16 cities … but the vast majority of people (in Kentucky and nationwide) still live in places where LGBTQ discrimination is legal.”
We’re watching: Treva Hodges
Here’s why: Hodges will lead the city of Charlestown, Indiana, as mayor after beating out longtime Republican incumbent Bob Hall in November’s election, a result that was confirmed in a December recount. Hodges, 40, is the first female mayor of any city or town in Clark County. The Democrat has pledged to make the Southern Indiana city more financially transparent and has advocated for restoring private property rights and seeking residents’ opinions at town hall meetings. Tackling the city’s sewer issues is also a goal.
Why 2020 is important: Hodges has said she wants to bring fresh energy to the city of roughly 8,000 that is about 30 minutes north of Louisville. While Hall has contested her narrow victory in an ongoing court case, the new year will offer Hodges a chance to move forward and turn her campaign promises into reality.
What others say: “Her cornerstone is transparency and honest and integrity in government, and Charlestown has really not had that in the past,” said Kate Miller, chairwoman of Clark County Democrats. “I think it will be a new feel when you step in the City Hall.”
What Hodges says: “It’s really about the citizens. That to me is the most exciting part. It’s a shift in local government that is going to put the focus back on local citizens. They have been waiting for change for so long.”
We’re watching: Gladys Lopez
Here’s why: Lopez is the senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Norton Healthcare. Since joining the company almost two years ago, Lopez has worked to increase its focus on diversity and inclusion, both internally and externally. In the community, Lopez encouraged the company to become a presenting sponsor of the Louisville Pride Festival and to support Unity Jam, which provides back-to-school supplies for children with limited resources. Lopez also serves on the boards of the Kentuckiana Hispanic Business Council Inc., Fund for the Arts and Health Enterprises Network.
Why 2020 is important: Lopez has spent time making connections across Louisville, and in 2020, she wants to put them to work. At Norton, she plans to launch two new employee resource groups that will support Hispanic employees and people who are differently abled. The goal of the groups is to not only increase diversity among the company’s 15,000-member workforce but to ensure that people of all backgrounds succeed within the company.
What others say: “Gladys left her hometown of Chicago and moved to Louisville to join Norton Healthcare because of her commitment to our mission, vision and values,” said Michael Gough, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Norton Healthcare. “She immediately became involved in the life of the organization and our community. We value Gladys’ energy, expertise and compassion for Norton Healthcare’s employees and patients, and we are thrilled that she has been recognized as one of the 20 people to watch in 2020.”
What Lopez says: “People should feel that regardless of who you are and how you are, when you go to work, you can be your authentic self. … I think it’s important that people understand, while we are a large organization, we want individuals to feel we care about them individually.”
We’re watching: Lara MacGregor
Here’s why: MacGregor is the founder of Hope Scarves, a nonprofit organization that collects scarves and survivor stories and passes them on to others in treatment in order to give them hope and support. First diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, MacGregor spent almost seven years in remission before being diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in January 2014. MacGregor founded Hope Scarves in 2012, and with the help of staff and many volunteers, the organizations sends nearly 50 scarves a week all around the world.
Why 2020 is important: In 2020, MacGregor plans to launch her own website, laramacgregor.com, to share her personal journey of living life over cancer. Throughout the year, MacGregor hopes to engage in storytelling through her blog, new podcast and public speaking to show that there is always hope in the world, no matter what one’s circumstances are. MacGregor hopes to continue establishing connections by living each day fully in the present.
What others say: “Lara MacGregor is the kind of person who immediately makes anyone feel welcome, inviting others into her circle with open arms,” said Kristin Armstrong, community relations director of Hope Scarves. “I think it’s that authenticity and genuine interest in and concern for others that has made both Lara and Hope Scarves successful.”
What MacGregor says: “My hope is to help others see that hope is not contingent. It exists despite our circumstances — in each laugh, hug and connection by living fully in the present. I can’t change the fact that I have terminal cancer, but I can choose how I react. 2020 will be a year of storytelling, joy and connection for me, and I look forward to embracing it one day at a time.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell
We’re watching: Sen. Mitch McConnell
Here’s why: McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate and Kentucky’s senior senator, has risen through the ranks to become one of the most powerful people in Washington. McConnell is in the driver’s seat in the Senate and has spearheaded efforts to remake the nation’s judiciary by blocking Democratic nominations made during the past administration and fast-tracking current nominations of like-minded conservatives. He has bragged about his reputation as the “Grim Reaper” for killing progressive measures coming out of the Democratic-controlled House. Shrugging off his dismal popularity ranking in his home state, McConnell stresses his work to promote Kentucky’s hemp industry, to direct funds to combat opioid addiction and to build Louisville long-awaited new Veteran’s Administration hospital.
Why 2020 is important: If and when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turns over the recently passed articles of impeachment against Trump, the eyes of the nation will turn to McConnell and the Senate for a trial to decide whether Trump stays in office. McConnell raised eyebrows when he said he was aligned with the White House on the impeachment issue and didn’t consider himself to be an impartial juror. Meanwhile, McConnell faces a battle for reelection in his home state that is sure to be one of the most-watched in the country.
What others say: “Kentuckians know that (McConnell’s) job is more than just bringing a check to Kentucky,” said Democratic challenger Amy McGrath. “Where is his leadership on saving health care? Where is he at with the rising cost of prescription drugs? Why hasn’t he done anything to stop the trade war that’s hurting farmers and businesses in Kentucky? Where’s he at with raising the minimum wage?”
What McConnell says: “I think most Kentuckians are proud of the fact that somebody from our state is in the position I’m in. It’s not just a question of pride. It’s a question of delivering.”
Mitch McConnell: Senate has the votes to set impeachment trial rules
J. Herbert Nelson II
We’re watching: The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II
Here’s why: Nelson, a third-generation pastor, is the first African American to lead the Presbyterian denomination in its 300-year history in the U.S. Since his election in 2016, Nelson has worked to advance the denomination’s work as clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on various issues, including climate change, gun violence and homelessness. While his work takes him across the country and over its borders, Nelson also advocates for causes in Louisville, such as last summer when he partnered with the Louisville Bail Project in a downtown march in support of ending the cash bail system.
Why 2020 is important: Alongside advancing social justice work, Nelson said he’s working to modernize the denomination, meeting people where they are and shifting to a needs-based, community-focused ministry — vital and urgent work if the church is to remain relevant.
What others say: “He has kind of changed dramatically the way the office of the stated clerk of the General Assembly is conducted,” said the Rev. Jerry Van Marter, retired director of the Presbyterian News Service. “His combination of commitment to justice issues and peace, his articulateness in expressing those positions and just the force of his personality I think have significantly raised the visibility of the Presbyterian Church in the public arena.”
What Nelson says: “We’re attempting to figure out what it means to be the church in the 21st century. And I think we’ve been making significant headway on that. So many things are evolving, and we’re having to find new ways to be the church. … We have to take the risk in getting out in front of the issues, even if they may be unpopular, even if they may cause controversy, even if they may cause individuals to leave the church.”
We’re watching: Antonio Pantoja
Here’s why: Pantoja, 35, was once homeless in Louisville but has emerged as a nationally touted photographer, writer and horror filmmaker whose work has garnered more than 200 awards. The Hispanic-Italian artist often films in Louisville, bringing jobs and the spotlight to the city and scripting inspirational characters that defy stereotypes — including a gay Hispanic hero and strong African American female character. More than 1,500 attended the local premiere of his film “One Must Fall” in June at the Louisville Palace.
Why 2020 is important: Pantoja is currently working in Louisville on two films, including “Elena’s Guardian,” which features a monster seeking revenge on bullies on behalf of a disabled girl. He is teaming with art director Sonny Gerasimowicz, who created the characters for the popular movie “Where the Wild Things Are.” He also volunteers his time to teach free photo and video workshops and has taken portraits of more than 300 artists, donating their photos.
What others say: “He’s on the cusp of showing everyone how talented he is. And at the same time, he leads with kindness. All the things he does really have a message,” said his former boss, Lee Kiper, director of a business group for a cellphone company.
What Pantoja says: “Through films, you have a platform. I’m going to make another movie that will take a political stance and break negative stereotypes.” He was drawn to the visual arts after his father, who immigrated from Peru, died in 2009 — prompting Pantoja to regret not having more recordings of his father. “I realized videos and photos live on forever.”
We’re watching: Chef Ryan Rogers
Here’s why: Rogers is the local chef and restaurateur behind the restaurant empire that includes Royals Hot Chicken, Feast BBQ and bar Vetti. Named an Eater Young Gun in 2015, Rogers has big moves in store for Louisville’s dining scene in 2020, including another location of Royals and another project he won’t discuss justyet. A young chef relatively new to the Louisville dining scene, Rogers has been elevating fast-casual food in the city through his dedication to flavor and hospitality.
Why 2020 is important: A new location of Royals Hot Chicken will be open right at the top of the year in Jeffersontown. While Rogers likes to keep his face out of the spotlight, popular demand for his restaurants means expansion is highly likely for one or several of his properties.
What others say: “What separates Ryan from other business owners is his lack of ego when it comes to the restaurants,” said culinary manager Josh Smouse. “He observes what customers want and gives it to them. The greatest result of Ryan’s commitment to delicious, fairly priced food is that all of our employees are offered a benefits package that is generous and uncommon in the hospitality industry.”
What Rogers says: “2020 is going to be a great year for our restaurants Royals Hot Chicken, Feast BBQ and bar Vetti. I’m having a lot of fun watching Royals Hot Chicken continue to evolve beyond the work we’ve put into our new Jeffersontown location. Hopefully we’ll see some chicken and donuts in the near future. We’re also working on one of our most ambitious projects yet, which I’m excited to share more information on soon. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great management team and staff that executes day in and day out and allows us to take chances because we can rely on their consistency at each of our locations.”
Senate President Robert Stivers
We’re watching: State Senate President Robert Stivers
Here’s why: As the Republican president of the state Senate, Stivers leads his party’s 28-9 supermajority in the upper chamber of the General Assembly. Gone are the days of dealing with former Republican Gov. Bevin, as the two GOP-dominated legislative chambers will now face off with an ideological foe in new Gov. Beshear. The Democratic governor ran on boosting spending for public education and teacher raises by legalizing casino gaming, but Stivers indicated before and after the election that this wouldn’t go anywhere in the Senate. Will Stivers, who hails from Manchester, lead Senate Republicans in a path toward potential legislative compromise with Beshear, or will he pursue a GOP agenda that runs counter to the Democrat’s campaign promises?
Why 2020 is important: The 2020 legislative session began Tuesday, and the top item of which will be the passage of the state’s two-year operating budget. Beshear’s administration will present a budget proposal later this month, which may include ideas for new tax revenue — though any proposal will have to eventually make it past Stivers’ chamber and his Republican caucus. Stivers has also called for an official investigation of the state’s settlement with Purdue Pharma from 2015 — a potential thorny issue because Beshear’s old law firm represented the opioid maker.
What others say: “President Stivers is a dedicated public servant who holds deep convictions and recognizes the importance of this moment in time where we must prove that we can work together to achieve the best results for every Kentuckian,” Beshear said. “I am committed to changing the tone in Frankfort and seeking common ground for the common good of Kentucky families.”
What Stivers says: “(Beshear and I) need to be able to talk about issues. We need to be able to have good, logical discussions — policy-oriented. And we don’t need to help you all out by creating a lot of good stories that you all think are salacious and front-page stories. … But promises made in elections on both sides, by Republicans and Democrats, sometimes can’t be fulfilled by the realities of the environment and the economics of that environment.”
We’re watching: Tiffanie Wiley
Here’s why: After being diagnosed with vitiligo — a condition that causes the skin to lose pigment in blotches — as a child, Wiley was bullied in school and struggled to love herself. Now 31, the Louisville native has embraced her skin and become a motivational speaker with a special emphasis in encouraging young people and preventing bullying. Her “I Am Great” movement reminds people of all ages that no matter what challenges life throws their way, they are destined for greatness.
Why 2020 is important: After four years of her movement, Wiley is ready to ramp up her efforts. She’s working to make “I Am Great” a nonprofit and is gearing up to make her youth scholarship bigger in its second year. Wiley also hopes to connect with more youth and have a greater presence in schools. All of this is in addition to her full-time job as a civilian human resources specialist for the Army.
What others say: “What she’s trying to do to help people, especially youth of our community, to overcome adversity and build their self-esteem, I think we need more people like her,” said Lt. Col. Mary Ricks.
What Wiley says: “I was so tired of living my life for other people. I wasn’t happy. I was doing other people a favor. I had to give myself a talk. … ‘Are you going to live for other people or are you going to live for yourself?’ … I realized I just wanted to live for me. I didn’t want to do it for anyone else. … It’s nothing but up from here. We’re in a whole new decade now. We’ve got to get it right now. … We might as well go ahead and know that we’re someone important.”