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From Madison to Louisville Mayor

Mayor Dave Armstrong
never forgot his roots in rise to fame.


Madison classmates aren’t
surprised by his political success

By Don Ward
Editor

(January 2003) – For four years, Madison, Ind.’s connection to Louisville, Ky. has reached the highest level of local government – to Mayor Dave Armstrong’s office.
The outgoing Louisville mayor is a native of Madison and graduated from Madison High School in 1959. His late father, Lyman, operated a dime store on Main Street, and Dave and his brothers, Lyman (now deceased) and Tom, worked there.

Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong (1959)

After only one term as mayor, Armstrong, 61, chose not to run for re-election. He was succeeded by former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who takes office Jan. 1. Armstrong, who is leaving office after 27 years of public service, has accepted a new position at the University of Louisville, where he will teach and help develop curriculum for a new business and public administration school.
Madison residents who grew up with Armstrong have proudly watched their hometown friend rise through the ranks of government, from commonwealth’s attorney to state attorney general to Jefferson County (Ky.) Judge-Executive to the Louisville mayor’s seat. As Armstrong made his final rounds in December at various public events and news conferences, several Madison residents reminisced about Armstrong’s youth, school days and career.
While in office, Armstrong achieved many of his ambitious goals, including his plan to revive downtown Louisville into a place to live, work and play. He is proud of his achievements in this area “because it was neglected for so long.”
That initiative has produced new parks, residential units for young professionals, new tourist attractions, a development corporation that has generated 7,000 new jobs, and a future Marriott hotel complex, to name just a few. In all, Armstrong said the initiative has created $2 billion in private investment in downtown revitalization.”
Perhaps the most visible addition has been the Louisville Extreme Park, which has received rave reviews from skateboarders, both local and national. “Louisville’s reputation has been redefined to include one of the best skateboard parks in the world,” Armstrong said.

Dave Armstrong Harold Lakeman

Harold Lakeman and Dave Armstrong
enjoy a RiverBats game in 2001.

With some of his projects still in progress, Armstrong’s staff and supporters were surprised by his decision not to run for re-election. “It was a surprise, but we talked about it for a long time before he announced,” said Deputy Mayor Jane Driskell. “When you believe in a person’s vision, it’s kind of sad to see his administration come to an end. But hopefully it will continue in a way that will make everyone proud.”
Armstrong’s press secretary Vicki Glass said, “He’s done a great deal for downtown. I’ve talked to several people who have moved downtown at the mayor’s suggestion. It has become a city within itself.”
Critics, meanwhile, cite lingering controversies that occurred on Armstrong’s watch, including his firing of the Louisville police chief, resulting in police marching on City Hall; tensions between police and the African American community; and the city’s failure to lure an NBA team.
Armstrong, himself, attributes much of what he is today because of the values he learned by growing up in a small town like Madison. “I think a bit of what I am today is because I was raised in Madison, a town rooted in small-town values,” he said.
Armstrong’s family lived on Main Street, and he recalls working at various businesses while growing up, including Kroger, Jay-C Foods, Bircher Volkswagon and Mill’s Department Store.
Even today, Armstrong makes frequent trips to Madison, often dropping off his mother, Elizabeth, with her friends for the day. Armstrong has stayed in touch with several friends from Madison, including Harold “Peewee” Lakeman, a City of Madison administrator. Last summer, Armstrong invited a group from Madison to his suite to watch a Louisville RiverBats game. Lakeman organized the trip.
“He’s been a good friend and he treats me like a king, which I’m not,” said Lakeman, a high school classmate and track teammate of Armstrong’s. “I’m proud of him and what he’s done. He’s one of us and he’s not ashamed to tell people where he’s from. He gives Madison a good name.”

1959 Madison Track Team

1959 Madison Track Team yearbook
photo with Dave Armstrong at
far left in back row.

Armstrong attended the 1959 Madison class reunion two years ago at Clifty Inn. Lakeman said he was eagerly greeted by his old friends.
One classmate, Max Lowry of Madison, remembers Armstrong as “easy-going and well-liked. He was a people-person and you could tell he had charisma.”
Lowry, a retired executive from Madison Bank and Trust Co., ran track with Armstrong and the two attended their freshman year at nearby Hanover College together. Lowry recalled that Armstrong, who had never played football before, was recruited to try out for the college football team because of his track skills. Lowry couldn’t remember Armstrong ever getting into a game, but recalled an incident when a player in the game ran over Armstrong as he stood watching on the sidelines. Armstrong suffered a broken ankle.
“We still joke about his football injury from a game in which he never played,” Lowry said.
Armstrong didn’t stick with football for long. He left Hanover the next year and later graduated from Murray State University. He earned his law degree at the University of Louisville in 1969, then began his law career as a police court prosecutor.
Hank Bentz was not in Armstrong’s class but remembers him from the track team. Bentz, who now handles public relations for Madison’s Ivy Tech State College campus, said Armstrong was “a good student and very detailed oriented, a trait that probably helped him as mayor.”
Bentz recalled Armstrong to be “very popular and someone whom everyone liked. And the fact he ran track showed he could handle a grueling sport.”
In his new role at U of L, Armstrong said he hopes to encourage students to consider a career in public service. “The people I’ve met who hold office have great abilities and integrity and are usually big thinkers.”
Although Armstrong didn’t say it, his friends in Madison would likely put him in that group.

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