Mayor Jim Gray and challengers Anthany Beatty and Danny Mayer touched on familiar topics such as Rupp Arena and affordable housing at a mayoral debate Tuesday.
The forum at First African Baptist Church was the final faceoff between the three men before the May 20 primary. The top two vote-getters in the non-partisan primary will move on to the general election in November.
The forum for Operation Turnout, a non-partisian group that has been hosting candidate forums since 2010, also included candidates for the 2nd District Urban County Council race and the two candidates in the Democratic 77th House District primary.
On Tuesday, Gray touted his accomplishments during his first term as mayor, including erasing budget deficits, slashing the unfunded liability in the city's police and fire pension system, and saving more than $24 million by making changes to city employees' health insurance.
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"Three words have been a touchstone for me in the past four years and will be in the next four years: Getting things done," Gray told the crowd.
Beatty, a former Lexington police chief who is now an assistant vice president at the University of Kentucky, said that he is a proven leader as a former police chief and is the only lifelong Lexington resident in the race.
"I feel like I am the best person to run Lexington as its mayor," Beatty said. "I bring a unique perspective in that I have the background and the proven leadership in terms of being a leader in the police department."
Beatty criticized Gray's plan to spend more than $351 million on a revamped Rupp Arena and downtown convention center.
"I don't oppose the arena project, but I do oppose the funding models and mechanisms used to fund them," Beatty said. "I would support private investors."
Mayer, an assistant professor of English at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, has been a longtime critic of the Rupp project.
Mayer said that publicly financed arenas are a bad investment for taxpayers and tend to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.
"I think that big projects cost big money, and that requires people with big money to get access to those projects, and that cuts out most of our community," Mayer said; that comment earned the most applause of the night.
Gray, however, has maintained that if the city doesn't expand its convention center it will lose convention business. The project could add 4,600 construction jobs and even more jobs after the convention center and new Rupp Arena are built. The Rupp project is part of a larger revitalization of downtown, Gray said.
"Rupp is a game-changer," Gray said.
All three of the candidates said they would support establishing an affordable housing trust fund. All three also said that more needs to be done to address equality in Lexington.
Gray said he has promoted several minorities to key positions within city government, including Fire Chief Keith Jackson, the city's first black fire chief. The city's minority- and women-owned business program is also strong, he said.
Beatty, the city's first black police chief, said the job and role of a mayor is to encourage diversity.
"That has to be set from the top down," Beatty said. "So everyone knows what the expectations are."
Mayer agreed and pointed out that the city's landscape shows Lexington's inequalities. Major bike trails don't cross Newtown Pike, which means many minority areas don't have access to bike trails. Thoroughbred Park, on Main Street and Midland Avenue, was built to replicate the rolling hills of the countryside.
But those hills also hide one of Lexington's oldest minority neighborhoods from downtown, Mayer said.
"It also blocks the East End from view," Mayer said.