Mayor Jim Gray and two challengers for his office, Anthany Beatty and Danny Mayer, answered questions Monday night touching on issues that ranged from funding for the renovation of Rupp Arena to increasing the minimum wage.
The hourlong forum, organized by the Lexington Herald-Leader, the League of Women Voters of Lexington and WKYT-TV, was intended to help voters prepare for the mayoral primary May 20. The top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election.
Beatty, a University of Kentucky administrator and former Lexington police chief, and Danny Mayer, a Bluegrass Community & Technical College English professor, took issue with the funding mechanism Gray has proposed to pay for the $351 million Rupp revamp.
Beatty said he supported the project but expressed concern about using public funds for it. Mayer called it "an outdated development for the 1990s."
Gray has proposed using a combination of city and state funding and fan support in addition to increased revenues to pay for the project. The plan has not received final approval from the state and the Urban County Council.
"This project is all about staying competitive," Gray said, noting that the project would be an economic driver that would create jobs. He said the model has worked in other cities, such as Columbus, Ohio.
All three candidates said they supported a minimum-wage increase.
Beatty said a higher minimum wage would help families earn enough to live here and pay their bills.
"Lexington has a fairly high standard of living in terms of the cost," he said.
Gray pointed out that his company, Gray Construction, always paid higher than minimum wage to stay competitive — and because it is the right thing to do. He said the city already pays all of its full-time workers more than the minimum wage.
Mayer's plan would be to increase the minimum wage for city workers and city contract labor, then use the city's example as leverage to encourage other large employers to do the same.
Gray said that during his administration, budget deficits have turned into surpluses, crime is down and jobs have been created. He also said dilapidated areas such as the Pennington Place apartments at Richmond at New Circle roads and Sonnet Cove apartment complex on Laketower Drive have been given new life.
The candidates wrapped up the forum by giving closing statements that highlighted their major points. Gray touted his accomplishments as mayor.
"When you're on the right path, you stick to it," he said.
Mayer presented a platform of investing in local food, Lextran and affordable housing, and focusing on Lexington's greenways — streams and watersheds that could be restored to provide paths for walkers and cyclists.
Mayer acknowledged that he was a political newcomer, but said he had a unique understanding of the city and its needs. He said he would bring in experienced staff members and rely on the knowledge of the city's civil service workers in running city departments with which he might be unfamiliar.
"Leadership is about more than being a business leader" or administrator, he said.
Beatty said his platform was centered on enhancing public safety, providing necessary city services and fiscal responsibility. He also touted his lifelong residency in Lexington and experience in city government.
"I know Lexington," he said. "I know where Lexington has been ... I know where Lexington should go."