Former Vice Mayor Linda Gorton announced Tuesday that she will enter the race for mayor, becoming the second candidate to announce she will seek the city’s top elected position.
Gorton, who retired in December 2014 after spending 16 years on the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, had previously said she is considering the race. Gorton made the announcement in the lobby of The Square in downtown Lexington in front of dozens of supporters. Gorton served as vice mayor from 2011 to December 2014.
“We need a mayor who will unify the community moving forward,” she said.
Gorton said she decided to get into the race after being urged to do so by so many people after Mayor Jim Gray announced in early December he was entering the Democratic primary for the Sixth Congressional District and would not seek a third and final term as mayor of Kentucky’s second-largest city.
Gorton said a longtime friend of her husband’s had sent him a quote, not realizing Gorton was weighing another run for public office, that helped her make the decision to get back into politics after her brief nearly four-year retirement.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and it looks like work,” Gorton said, as she read the quote Tuesday. Her long tenure in city government and on various community committees makes her the ideal candidate to guide the community going forward, she said.
The city budget and a potentially crippling payment into the state’s pension system are top concerns, she said. Another key issue is keeping and retaining high-paying jobs. Occupational taxes make up the bulk of the city’s budget.
“We are always going to have to be sure that we are on the cutting edge of getting well-paid jobs,” Gorton said.
Gorton, a retired nurse, also pledged to focus on crime and the opioid epidemic.
“It’s going to take smart people working really hard to decrease this problem ,” Gorton said.
Quality-of-life issues, such as bringing a world-class art museum to Lexington and stabilizing and modernizing city parks, are other issues on her to-do list, she said. Gorton said if elected, she would continue to support the Town Branch Park, a proposed 10-acre park adjacent to the Lexington convention center and Rupp Arena that will be built using mostly private funds.
But Gorton said she’s more interested in hearing what people in Lexington want addressed.
“I am the type of person who wants to know what people are thinking,” Gorton said. “I want to know what you think is a problem in your neighborhood. The neighborhoods are the foundation. If we have safe neighborhoods, we have a better city.”
Gorton said she has not set a fundraising target but said she doubts that the race will top $1 million. She said she has already secured pledges from potential donors.
She has not yet filed her paperwork to run. She was collecting signatures at Tuesday’s announcement.
At-Large Councilman Kevin Stinnett has already said he will run for the city’s top job.
Stinnett, who has been on council since 2004, said Tuesday he worked with Gorton on council for years.
“I have a lot of respect for Linda. She was a good council member, but she retired four years ago and today’s a different world,” Stinnett said. “I think that I am the most qualified candidate who can meet all the challenges that are coming to Lexington.”
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said Tuesday that, with Gorton’s decision to enter the race, he has decided he will not run for mayor.
“I am going to run for re-election to council at-large,” Kay said. “I think she will provide good leadership.”
At-Large Councilman Richard Moloney said Tuesday he’s still weighing whether to get in the race for mayor or run at-large. The at-large council race is city-wide. The top vote-getter becomes vice mayor. The second- and third-place finishers become at-large members. They serve four-year terms.
“I have a lot of people who have asked me to run and I have had a lot of people ask me to stay where I am (and run in the at-large race),” Moloney said. “I love Lexington and I want to make sure that I am in the right position to do the most for the city. I am concerned that we are heading into tough times.”
Mike Scanlon, a businessman and former vice mayor, said Tuesday he is also considering entering the race. Scanlon, who is close to Stinnett, said he thinks Stinnett is an “excellent candidate and will make an excellent mayor.”
Scanlon said he would only enter the race if he felt that the race did not generate enough debate about all the issues facing Lexington. Scanlon served a tumultuous four years as vice mayor under Mayor Teresa Isaac from 2003 to 2006.
“It really needs to be a good vigorous debate,” Scanlon said.
Stinnett has traditionally received the support of the business and development community. Earlier this year, during the debate about keeping the current growth boundary, Stinnett offered an amendment that would have allowed some development outside of the boundary but only if certain criteria was met. That amendment was narrowly defeated. Gorton has been backed by the farming and horse industry and has voted in the past to keep the growth boundary. Many members of the horse and farming communities attended Gorton’s announcement Tuesday.
Scanlon said growth should not be the only issue in the mayor’s race. The debate should be about a host of topics the growing city is facing.
“The worse thing that could happen in the mayor’s race is that it becomes a mandate on growth or no growth,” Scanlon said.
The race is non-partisan. Gorton is a Republican. Stinnett is a Democrat.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has also said previously that people have encouraged her to enter the race. Grimes, who lives in Lexington, is in her second and final term as secretary of state. Calls to Grimes on Tuesday were not immediately returned.