Two first-time candidates, former police chief Anthany Beatty Sr. and English teacher Danny Mayer, are challenging Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
The two leaders in the May 20 primary will be on the ballot in November. We think that match-up should be between Gray and Beatty.
In his first term as mayor, Gray has significantly improved efficiency and morale in city government. He took on the looming disaster of the underfunded local police and fire pension system, forging a deal approved by the rank and file that cut the city's long-range pension debt almost in half.
He also tackled city health-care costs that were careening toward the unsustainable with $12 million in annual cost overruns projected. Gray took the difficult step of shifting more cost onto employees. But the plan also included the benefit of a free wellness clinic designed to reduce future costs for the city, employees and retirees by managing chronic conditions and preventing health crises.
Gray has put his leadership role to good use championing new and imaginative development. Although as vice mayor he opposed demolition of historic buildings to make way for CentrePointe in the heart of downtown, as mayor he worked with developers to improve the project's design.
More visibly, and controversially, he has pushed hard for an exciting proposal to transform Rupp Arena and the area around it, including the convention center.
Gray stumbled in marshaling support for the ambitious, $300 million-plus project. The University of Kentucky men's basketball program, the lead tenant, has yet to sign a contract and the State Senate balked at appropriating $80 million for it, leaving serious questions about the financing.
Both opponents point to the problems with the Rupp project. Each has also accused Gray of focusing on downtown and giving short shrift to other parts of the city and the rural area.
Gray is the first mayor to hire a planning commissioner to advocate for a comprehensive approach to land use at the cabinet level, a move that promises to serve the entire community well.
However, Gray's lukewarm support of the Purchase of Development Rights program to preserve farmland has been disappointing. In his first budget, which included severe cuts in many areas, Gray cut PDR's $2 million annual appropriation in half. When the fiscal outlook improved it was the council, not Gray, that restored full funding this year.
While there is much to praise in Gray's first term as mayor, the public discussion is well served by the presence of a strong, viable opponent in Beatty, a Lexington native who worked his way up through the ranks to become the first black police chief. He is now vice president for campus services and public safety at UK. Beatty is well-respected, has a thoughtful, even demeanor and an impressive record of public service.
While Beatty's sincere interest in service and his record make him an attractive candidate, he has not yet made a strong case for why he is the best candidate.
His pitch thus far has been that he will represent all of Lexington in contrast to what he describes as Gray's focus on downtown. Pressed on what that means during his interview with the editorial board, Beatty offered vague comments about engaging a broader cross-section of the community in decision making.
If, as seems likely, he advances from the primary his challenge will be to paint a more detailed picture of what he would bring to the office of mayor.
Mayer, an associate professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, was also editor of North of Center, a newspaper that criticized Gray and other city officials for four years until it closed last fall. With no experience in city or neighborhood service he has not made the case that he is prepared to be mayor.
The unendorsed candidate may submit a 250-word response by noon Wednesday.