Former Mayor Teresa Isaac endorsed Vice Mayor Jim Gray for the city's top job Tuesday, promising to walk neighborhoods and attend neighborhood meetings with her former opponent.
"I believe he is a true leader," Isaac said.
Isaac said she has known Gray, a businessman, for more than 20 years and has found him to be accessible and someone who values diversity and inspires his employees.
About 80 Gray supporters attended the endorsement announcement, which was held on a stage that had been set up in a parking lot at East Third and Race streets.
Isaac has traditionally done well in that area north of downtown, which is heavily African-American.
Isaac was elected in 2002, beating Scott Crosbie in the general election after Gray was eliminated in the primary. Crosbie, who now supports Gray, introduced Isaac Tuesday, repeatedly calling her "Isaacs."
Jim Newberry handily defeated Isaac four years ago to become mayor.
A comeback bid this year for Isaac ended in the May primary, when she received 16.6 percent of the vote, compared with 35.7 percent for Gray and 43.7 percent for Newberry.
Jamie Emmons, Gray's campaign manager, said there had been no discussion of a job for Isaac in a Gray administration.
Lance Blanford, Newberry's campaign manager, later released a statement that said "Gray and Isaac are the failed politics of the past that created a mess for Lexington. Mayor Newberry has had to clean up that mess, and Lexington is finally moving forward."
Gray and Newberry entered office at the same time four years ago.
Gray said the location for the endorsement announcement was chosen because that area has the highest levels of unemployment in the city.
When a reporter asked if he were concerned that most of the people who lived in the area were black but almost all the people who showed up for the event were white, Gray said: "We've got folks all over the community. A lot of folks are working today."
In her remarks, Isaac mentioned the 37 percent rate increase that Kentucky American Water recently put into effect to help pay for a new treatment plant on the Franklin-Owen County line.
"The people in the neighborhoods around us cannot afford a 37 percent increase in their water bills," Isaac said.
Newberry supported building the new treatment plant, but has said the water company's rate increase is excessive. The state Public Service Commission is expected to rule soon on how much of that increase the utility may keep.
Gray also hit on the water rate increase, and on Newberry's support for the stalled CentrePointe project that has left a grass-covered block downtown.
Linking CentrePointe to water rates, Gray said "there was a hole in the heart of the city, now there's a hole in your wallet."
Gray also noted he had endorsed Isaac after he failed to make the cut in the 2002 mayor's race.
"I said then that she's wicked smart, and she's proved it again," he said.
A number of people joined Gray and Isaac for the endorsement, including former Mayor Foster Pettit, former Urban County Council members Jennifer Mossotti and Dick DeCamp and former Vice Mayor Ann Ross.
Gray said the Isaac endorsement and another Monday evening by Urban County Councilwoman Andrea James, show that his campaign has momentum. All four unions representing city employees have endorsed Gray.
A poll released Monday by cn|2 Politics shows that Newberry's lead over Gray has shrunk from 13 points to six points since August. In the latest poll, Newberry leads 43 percent to 37 percent, with 19 percent still undecided.
The telephone survey of 450 likely voters in Fayette County was conducted by Braun Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J., on Oct. 6 and 7. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
How many votes Isaac can produce for Gray remains to be seen, said Don Dugi, a political scientist who teaches at Transylvania University.
He noted Isaac "was not a particularly popular mayor" but said the bad feelings that caused her to be turned out of office four years ago might have lessened since then.
Dugi said he didn't expect Gray to get "a big bump" from the endorsement, unless Isaac really does work to help Gray.
"If she does some door-to-door kind of stuff, that could be of some help," Dugi said. "That's always been her strength, retail politics."
In the May 18 primary, most of the 19 precincts Isaac carried were in neighborhoods north of downtown — half inside New Circle and half out — with large numbers of African-American voters. In 14 of those precincts, Newberry came in second.
Gray was strongest downtown and in neighborhoods around the University of Kentucky and in Chevy Chase, Ashland Park and Kenwick. Newberry did best in precincts outside New Circle, especially on the south end of town.
Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319.