If we’ve learned anything about Jim Gray in his almost 10 years as Lexington’s mayor or vice mayor, it’s that he’s a problem solver.
Gray is at his best when he’s figuring out complex problems and building support for solutions. He’s analytical, thoughtful and moderate not by political design but by nature. He would bring qualities to the U.S. Senate that could help that body regain its former functioning self, which would be a good thing for this country.
Gray may not be the smoothest debater, but he is driven by traditional Democratic Party principles of equality and economic opportunity as well as a sense of history. From the New Deal on, Gray says, Democrats have understood the country can’t “shrink its way to greatness.”
Gray’s experience and record of success — in government and the private sector — make him the clear best choice for Democrats in the May 17 U.S. Senate primary.
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Gray is one of seven Democrats — six are actively campaigning — who are vying to deny Sen. Rand Paul a second term. The six who we interviewed share many of the same positions, including support for raising the minimum wage, defending Social Security and Medicare and investing in Eastern Kentucky’s economy and infrastructure to replace lost coal jobs.
Several, most prominently filmmaker and former Frankfort city commissioner Sellus Wilder, make the case that to beat Paul, Democrats should break with their conventional Kentucky strategy of moving to the right to appease anti-Obama voters because that approach has failed in statewide elections. Instead, Wilder says, the Democratic nominee should fire up the party base by aggressively championing progressive policies.
Wilder also says politicians of both parties should stop feeding voters “the myth” that coal jobs would come back to Eastern Kentucky if we just got rid of the Environmental Protection Agency. Rather than raising false hopes, Wilder calls for public investments to diversify the mountain economy and improve infrastructure, including broadband technology, and for extended relief for unemployed miners.
Wilder has won the endorsement of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the grassroots social and environmental justice organization, via its political action committee. He is articulate and has much to offer his party and state; we urge him to stay involved.
Ron Leach, a retired Army major and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who lives in Brandenbrug and is an occupational medicine physician assistant, also has much to offer, although a U.S. Senate race is probably not the place to start. Leach has smart ideas which he expresses well and has put into a fairly detailed platform. He wants a Marshall Plan for Eastern Kentucky and favors allowing people to buy into Medicare at age 50.
Jeff Kender, a factory worker from Pikeville, says he’s running to bring attention to the poverty of too many of his mountain neighbors and also to advocate for a hemp industry in Kentucky.
Another theme running through the Democratic field is the corrosive effects of big money and secret donors on our government and politics.
To make that point, career Navy veteran and retired schoolteacher Tom Recktenwald of Louisville is accepting campaign contributions only if the check is for zero dollars. He hopes that if he pulls off an upset without raising any money, it would become a national catalyst for reform. Recktenwald also should stay involved because his compassion and commitment to gender equity are needed at the state and local levels.
Although Gray has yet to flesh out a Senate platform — something he should get busy doing — his record in city government is well known. Elected vice mayor in 2006 and mayor in 2010, Gray inherited a crisis in the firefighters and police pension fund, which, after a lot of work and negotiation, was restored to sound financial footing with a plan that the unions approved.
He also developed an employee health plan that curbed the city’s costs while improving care for city employees. Gray’s methodical approach to helping Lexington’s homeless and to the city’s shortage of affordable housing is producing measurable improvements. He supported Lexington becoming the second Kentucky city to raise the minimum wage.
Had he been mayor instead of vice mayor when a city block was razed by its owners, the CentrePointe debacle (and the yawning hole in the middle of downtown Lexington) probably would have been averted.
Gray has a compelling life story deeply rooted in Kentucky, beginning in his hometown of Glasgow. He left college when his father died to help his mother and brothers run the family construction company, which, under their leadership, grew into one of the nation’s largest builders of manufacturing facilities. (He earned a degree from Vanderbilt by commuting to Nashville.)
Gray has an appetite for hard work and is dedicated to making government run efficiently and effectively. After closely watching him in public office for almost a decade, we highly recommend him as the best Democratic candidate to challenge Paul in November.
The unendorsed candidates may submit a 250-word response by noon Friday.