Six men are running for three at-large seats on the Lexington Urban County Council, with the top vote-getter claiming the council's top spot — the job of vice mayor.
It's a big one, says the current officeholder, Linda Gorton.
"A vice mayor is perceived as and really is the leader of the legislative body," said Gorton, who is not endorsing any of the candidates, two of whom she works with on the council. "Some people think you work for the mayor, but no, you lead 14 other people and keep the legislative body moving on a good track."
Although the six candidates have some very different ideas for the city, they all believe they're ready for the job of representing the entire city. Out of a crowded primary field of 13, Richard Moloney, a former council member and city administrator, came in first. Steve Kay, the only current at-large member, was second, and current district council member Kevin Stinnett came in third. Another former councilman, Bill Cegelka, was fourth, while Fayette County Judge-Executive Jon Larson and minister Chris Logan placed fifth and sixth.
With just over three weeks left before the election, voters can expect to see plenty of yard signs, political mail and candidates on their doorsteps, plus a smattering of television ads.
Candidates have been busy raising money, according to the most recent filings with the Kentucky Registry for Election Finance, which include fundraising from May 21 to Oct. 3.
Stinnett raised $54,432 and still had about $46,000 on hand. Moloney was close behind with about $52,000 but had only $14,000 left to spend. Kay raised about $19,000 and had about $16,000 left to spend.
Logan had raised about $12,000 and spent about $1,000. Larson loaned himself $6,000 of the roughly $7,800 he had raised and had yet to spend. Cegelka also loaned his campaign money, $8,000 of the $18,000 he raised. He had about $1,000 of cash on hand.
Moloney, who served on the council between 1987 and 2007, increased his name recognition after leaving his post as Mayor Jim Gray's public works commissioner to run unsuccessfully for an open state Senate seat last year.
He said his campaign is an old-fashioned one, based on yard signs and door-to-door campaigning, where he explains his basic platform on public safety.
"That's my top issue," he said in a recent interview.
Specifically, Moloney said he wants to bring back a community policing model in which code enforcement inspectors worked with police officers in an attempt to get to know neighborhoods and the individual problems they have. "That really brought back a lot of trust."
Moloney also wants to return another program: the Mayor's Training Center, a workforce development program that was moved to the Bluegrass Area Development District during Mayor Jim Newberry's administration.
"It worked so well, we need to bring that back here and into the inner city," he said. "We have jobs here but not enough trained workers."
Moloney's economic development plans also include improving a value-added cattle industry in Fayette County. Instead of shipping Bluegrass State cattle to Kansas and other states, Fayette County could build stockyards and slaughterhouses to finish Kentucky meat products.
The only at-large incumbent, Steve Kay, is a professional facilitator for organizations, particularly in the area of public policy. He cites his ability to work with others and his record of getting results on big, citywide issues.
"We took a comprehensive look at homelessness and affordable housing and came up with recommendations that have been implemented," said Kay, who co-chaired a homelessness commission that resulted in a new Office of Homelessness Intervention and Prevention and a new affordable housing manager.
That kind of systemic approach to solving problems will only become more important, Kay said.
"The ongoing issue for the community is, how do we absorb the people who want to come here?" Kay said. "Lexington is becoming increasingly attractive. How do we accommodate them in a way that respects the rights and privileges of people who live here without expanding into rural areas?"
Another council incumbent, Kevin Stinnett, said his nearly 10 years representing the 6th Council District would benefit the wider city.
In particular, he said tackling the twin issues of jobs and education will improve Lexington. Although the council and the Fayette County Public Schools are separate public entities, Stinnett wants to create a better relationship between the two. Better education, he said, will lead to better jobs in Lexington.
"Sometimes the communication is not always there, such as salting roads to schools, or planning new roads for a new school," he said.
The council could work to help students with more access to books or possibly providing free wireless Internet access for all of Lexington.
If he becomes vice mayor or an at-large member, Stinnett said he would also like to see more long-term planning on public safety, both for staffing and equipment. He also agreed with Moloney that the city should oversee workforce training.
"I think the city can do a better job," he said. "One of the biggest things out there is people can't find skilled workers in the $10-$15 range. The biggest gap besides HVAC is plumbers and electricians."
Former Urban County Councilman Bill Cegelka said he also believes education is the key to more prosperity for Lexington, but he takes a slightly different tack.
"For me, it's trying to partner with the Fayette County Public Schools to help close the achievement gap in some of our low-performing schools," he said. "I think long term it's the best investment the city can make. All the data shows the more well-educated people are, the more likely they are to be employed. They lead better lives. We have this split where too many people aren't getting the education they need."
To close the academic gap between socioeconomic and ethnic groups, Cegelka would like to bring together the school system with UK and the city's Parks and Recreation department to create after-school and summer programs that support curriculum to help all kids get to grade level in reading and math.
It's a long-term approach, Cegelka said, but one that would produce a better educated workforce to attract the high-tech and manufacturing jobs that Lexington needs.
Fayette County Judge-Executive Jon Larson ran for that office four years ago to get it abolished, something that has not happened. He said more change could be accomplished by serving on the Urban County Council, particularly when it comes to economic development.
"I have the answer," said Larson, a criminal defense attorney. "We need a regional planning authority — we can't control sprawl, protect our environment, or attract jobs without regional planning. Just like when we merged the county and city (in 1974), we will be so glad when we accomplish merged regional results."
As someone who has worked in the criminal courts, Larson said he also would like to see better approaches to reducing crime. Instead of hiring more police, the city should look at more drug treatment and job training programs.
Chris Logan, a minister and businessman, also wants to focus on economic development with more "shovel-ready" projects for business expansion. For example, "the 21C project was shovel-ready, and it will bring jobs," he said.
Logan said he supports the city's Purchase of Development Rights program, which protects farmland from future development, because it preserves Lexington's national brand, but he also said that "how we grow is a challenge."
"I think in 2015 we will take a hard look at the urban service boundary, and we will have to provide some solutions," said Logan, referring to the boundary line that contains urban development.
Gorton, who expressed disappointment that there are no women in the race, said no one should make assumptions about who will win the three at-large spots. In 2006, she placed fourth in the primary and second in the general election. In 2010, she was second in the primary but emerged as the winner of the general election.
"A lot of things can happen depending on how someone campaigns in the fall," she said.