Lexington Mayor Jim Gray opens election campaign without an opponent

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comSeptember 24, 2013 

The opening of Mayor Jim Gray's re-election headquarters Tuesday night looked like the typical start of a campaign: cheering supporters, Gray banners, speeches and a ribbon-cutting.

The one thing missing? An opponent.

Less than four months before the filing deadline, no one has declared that he or she will challenge Gray in 2014.

The first-term mayor said Tuesday he's not sure whether he'll have an opponent.

"This is not exactly a rally to encourage (someone to run against me)," Gray joked after cutting the ribbon on his new Vine Street headquarters.

Two possible contenders — former Lexington police Chief Anthany Beatty and former Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon — told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that they are considering running.

Beatty first said in February that he might run. Beatty, who is now assistant vice president of campus services at the University of Kentucky, was the city's top cop from 2001 to 2008, when he retired.

He said Tuesday that he is continuing to talk to people in the community. He has no firm timetable on when he will decide.

Scanlon, who was vice mayor under Mayor Teresa Isaac from 2002 to 2006, said he has been approached to run for the position, but he hasn't made up his mind.

"This is not anti-Jim Gray," Scanlon said. "I think Jim Gray has been a good mayor, but I think Lexington deserves the best."

Gray pointed to his leadership in solving longstanding financial problems as one of the reasons Lexington voters should give him another four years.

He said that reforming police and fire pensions, overhauling the city's health insurance plan and making other difficult cuts have put the city's finances on firm footing. Gray was elected mayor in November 2010 after serving as vice mayor from 2007 to 2010.

Gray has pushed to reinvigorate downtown — including the redevelopment of Rupp Arena and the Lexington convention center. Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer formed the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement to create more jobs in advanced manufacturing.

Creating more jobs and a vibrant downtown are tops on Gray's to-do list if he is re-elected in 2014, he said Tuesday.

"Nothing is more important than a good job," Gray said. "Creating jobs is number one. Running government efficiently is number two. And creating a great American city is number three."

During his more than three years in office, Gray has tangled with police and fire over key issues, including limiting the off-duty use of patrol cars and how to fix the police and fire pension system.

Mike Sweeney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge No. 4, acknowledged that the police have had a rocky relationship with Gray's administration but said that the FOP does not make any endorsements until after the May primary.

"I think competition is always good," Sweeney said.

Gray may be difficult to beat, he said.

"I know he has a very strong approval rating," Sweeney said. "It's hard to beat someone with a strong approval rating, but it's been done before."

Gray's approval ratings are high and his campaign coffers are flush, which could keep people out of the race, campaign observers say.

One poll — commissioned by Gray in 2011 — had Gray's approval rating at 77 percent.

According to Gray's latest campaign finance report filed June 30, he has $134,128 on hand. Gray — the former CEO of Gray Construction — also has considerable personal wealth that he can pump into the race. Gray declined to say Tuesday how much of his own money he would be willing to spend.

"Every time that I've run, I've said this is a full commitment and an investment," Gray said.

Scanlon said that Gray's personal wealth will not scare him out of a possible run.

Scanlon is CEO of Thomas and King, a Lexington-based company that has more than 5,500 employees and operates 88 Applebee's and other restaurants in Kentucky and five other states.

"I think we're both successful businessmen with the support of smart people," Scanlon said. "I have money of my own and supporters of my own."

Alan Stein, CEO of Stein Group, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate. But Stein said Tuesday that he will support Gray.

"I have absolutely no interest," Stein said. "I think Jimmy is doing a great job. I am going to support him."

The filing deadline to run for mayor is in January.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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