Lexington mayoral debate focuses on water, CentrePointe, Limestone work

Candidates continue attacks unabated

amead@herald-leader.comOctober 29, 2010 

Jim Gray, left and Jim Newberry

  • Newberry says he wouldn't hire Gray

    WKYT's Bill Bryant asked each Lexington mayoral candidate while the other was out of the studio: Would you hire your opponent?

    Vice Mayor Jim Gray said Mayor Jim Newberry has "worked very hard," then started talking about other things until Bryant pressed him for an answer. "I'd sure consider Jim," Gray said.

    When Newberry was asked, he got to the point quicker: "No. He doesn't show up."

    Watch Bryant's interviews with Newberry and Gray on Newsmakers at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on WKYT-TV, and 10 a.m. Sunday on CWKYT.

    Also, the candidates will talk to Leland Conway live at 5 p.m. Friday on WLAP-630 AM.

    Andy Mead

It was the middle of the last joint public appearance of Lexington's mayoral candidates before Tuesday's election, and businessman Ron Lawson had had enough.

"I am disgusted by all the mudslinging," he told the candidates. "It's got to stop."

It didn't.

Mayor Jim Newberry and Vice Mayor Jim Gray have been attending debates and forums since February, and the rhetoric has grown more heated along the way.

In the last week, since a Kentucky Poll conducted for the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV showed the race in a virtual dead heat, the candidates increasingly are ignoring moderators and talking over each other.

Thursday night's forum took place at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington Green and was broadcast live on WVLK-590 AM.

The main points of contention between the two were the stalled CentrePointe development, Kentucky American Water, and the reconstruction of a portion of South Limestone.

On Kentucky American, Gray continued to blame Newberry for the water company's rate increase to pay for a new treatment plant north of Frankfort. (The utility has put a 37 percent increase into effect; the state Public Service Commission is expected to roll back part of it.)

In 2008, Gray was on the losing end of an 8-7 council vote to pay a consultant $15,000 to compare the Kentucky American proposal to one from Louisville Water Co.

Newberry was in favor of the $164 million project, but he said the utility is asking for too much of a return on its investment. He said the state PSC was the proper place to compare the projects. The PSC gave Kentucky American the go-ahead after determining that the costs of both proposals were about equal.

"The mayor actually sat at the negotiating table," Gray said. "Just imagine a negotiating table. The mayor sat on the side of Kentucky American Water. I and those other council members were sitting on the side of the citizens."

The reason for Newberry's action, Gray said, was that Newberry had taken money from people associated with Kentucky American.

Newberry replied that Gray was taking liberties with the facts.

"The truth of the matter is there was no negotiation, no people sitting around the table," Newberry said. "That did not happen."

What did happen, he said, was that local officials from around Central Kentucky spent years evaluating 40 water supply options and chose the one that Kentucky American eventually built.

On CentrePointe, Newberry said the city is collecting more in taxes on the empty block than it did when there were 17 buildings there.

"It is highly inappropriate for a government official to oppose an otherwise lawful project simply because they don't like how it looks or who's doing it," Newberry said.

Gray said he tried to warn the mayor that a project of the scale being promised for the site would not fly, but the mayor ignored him.

"Regrettably, the city was hoodwinked on that project," Gray said. "We've got a pasture in the middle of our city. We've got a hole in the heart of our city."

On South Limestone, moderator and talk show host Dave "Kruser" Krusenklaus noted that a Herald-Leader Campaign Watchdog Fact Check had rated Gray's television ad on the street reconstruction project as "false." The ad characterized the project, which completely rebuilt the street and sewers, and buried utilities, as a paving job.

"Folks, go down there and look at it yourself, and ask if it was worth $16 million," Gray said, inflating the estimated final costs somewhat.

Newberry's reply: "You can't see everything that was done on that project because it's underground. That's where the sanitary sewers are, Vice Mayor Gray. That's where the storm sewers are, Vice Mayor Gray."

As Krusenklaus pointed out when the forum began Thursday evening, "we are less than 108 hours away from the polls opening."

Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319.

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