Merlene Davis: Mayoral race is uninspiring

Neither candidate seems the best choice

October 21, 2010 

After 30 minutes of aerobics Tuesday, a friend and I attended the mayoral debate sponsored by the Eastland Parkway Neighborhood Association and conducted by the League of Women Voters.

I needed the aerobics to counter a brief dive into a vat of brownies over the weekend, and I needed the debate to finally decide how I will cast my ballot for Lexington mayor on Nov. 2.

Neither venture changed anything. I can see where the brownies have landed on my anatomy, and I still don't know for whom to vote.

During the debate, Mayor Jim Newberry and Vice Mayor Jim Gray reminded me of day-old dishwater: cold, uninviting and questionably prepared for the designated assignment.

The only time I could see some excitement in either candidate was when it appeared one had a "gotcha" moment over the other.

Gray continually tied Newberry to Kentucky American Water and the new water-treatment plant that is up and running at a cost of $164 million. The water company has instituted a 37 percent rate increase while awaiting a Public Service Commission ruling to pay for that plant. Gray left it to us to follow the rate increase, like bread crumbs, back to Newberry.

For his part, Newberry has said that he opposes the rate increase but that the plant was necessary because of past water shortages during droughts. Gray, he said, doesn't think Lexington has a water problem. Newberry wanted us to think Gray doesn't have a clue about what is vital to this city.

It was right about there that I regretted having left the agony inflicted by a sadistic aerobics teacher for the torment of suffocating dullness.

I almost miss former Mayor Theresa Isaac and former Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon, who ran Urban County Council meetings like a episode of World Wrestling Entertainment's Monday Night Raw. Back then, no one dared to close her eyes.

Come on, fellas. Tell us how you are going to make our lives better. Tell us how you are going to make Lexington a great place to live and work. Give us a reason to vote for you.

One of the questions that evening was about property taxes. If elected, were the two men planning to raise them? Or would they explore rolling back property values because foreclosures have devalued homes in some neighborhoods.

Neither planned to raise taxes or commit political suicide by saying they would.

Newberry said, however, that in neighborhoods where property values had declined, new evaluations should be considered.

If re-evaluation is such a good idea, why hadn't it occurred to him before now? The foreclosure crisis has been going on for a few years.

Turns out, David O'Neill, the county's property valuation administrator, said he's already lowered values in certain hard-hit areas, thereby lowering the amount owners pay in taxes. He said the mayor can use his influence to get the PVA to consider re-evaluations, but that's about as far as his input can go.

Gray, on the other hand, tackled the question by basically saying property taxes are important because our public schools depend on them. It seemed like a no-answer answer.

Gray and Newberry missed a prime opportunity to connect with voters. Why didn't they tell us whether their property values had decreased because of the struggles of their neighbors? How have their portfolios suffered? How deeply were they feeling our pain?

Instead, the men took an hour of my time to paint a cloudy, non-specific picture of what they would do for Lexington and me if I handed over my vote.

There was absolutely nothing for me to grab onto or to pull me toward one man or the other.

An aloof lawyer and a tightly wound businessman stood before me either unwilling or unable to identify with this community's problems or take off their masks long enough for us to get a glimpse of the human being behind them.

I will vote, despite my lack of enthusiasm, because I think it is my duty to do so. I just don't know whether any winner in this contest can be considered the "best man."

Reach Merlene Davis at (859) 231-3218 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3218, or mdavis1@herald-leader.com.

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