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Gray links mayor to donor favors

A new front has broken out in the political battle between Lexington's two highest officials after Vice Mayor Jim Gray released a list of Mayor Jim Newberry's contributors whose employers received contracts from the city.

Labeled "Newberry Pay to Play," the document states that Newberry has, over the course of his political career, received more than $124,000 in campaign contributions from people whose employers got $45.5 million in city contracts.

The Newberry campaign responded that no one had ever gotten a contract in return for a contribution and called the list "an act of someone who does not have a record to stand on."

Newberry and Gray are candidates in the May 18 mayoral primary. Former Mayor Teresa Isaac also is a candidate.

The contracts in question ranged from millions of dollars to Central Rock Mineral Co. to a few hundred dollars to Berea College. All were approved by the Urban County Council. The Newberry campaign said Gray voted for all of them, except for two when he was absent.

Gray's campaign manager, Carrie Glenn, said the campaign was making no specific allegations about anyone on the list or charging that there was a direct link between contributions and contracts.

"We're saying here are the lists, and $45.5 million went to people who gave to Jim Newberry's campaign," she said. "You can draw whatever conclusions you want from it."

The implication was clear, said Lance Blanford, Newberry's campaign manager.

"They titled the document 'Pay to Play,' " he said. "Clearly they are insinuating that these individuals, businesses, and organizations gave money in hopes of earning city contracts."

Most of the contracts were awarded after competitive bids, he said. Some, such as the two to Berea College, came from funds allocated to council members and did not involve the mayor, Blanford said.

He also said that as a businessman Gray has made political contributions, and as vice mayor has taken contributions from people connected to 60 percent of the businesses and organizations on the "Pay to Play" list.

The Newberry-Gray dust-up comes in the wake of the latest campaign finance reports. They show that Newberry has raised $500,000 and Gray, who announced his candidacy later, has raised $338,000. Isaac has raised $68,000. Businessman Skip Horine, a fourth candidate, has reported no contributions.

Glenn, the Gray campaign manager, said the reports show that Newberry is "leveraging the power of his incumbency" by "holding a few high-dollar events and taking money from applicants for government contracts."

The Gray campaign, she said, is "running a real grassroots campaign — more donors, lower average contributions, more small-dollar fund-raisers."

The Gray campaign had earlier noted that, since the first of the year, the vice mayor is raising money at a faster pace than the mayor.

The largest group contributing to Newberry were attorneys, who have given a total of $64,000. People who are involved with development — they listed occupations such as builder, engineer or real estate developer — have given about $50,000.

Gray has received more than $32,000 from attorneys and about $40,000 from people connected with development.

Isaac, who would not comment for this article, has raised $3,400 from attorneys and about $4,000 from people connected with development.

At least 49 people gave to two or three of the candidates, including at least three who made contributions to Gray, Isaac and Newberry.

One of the triple givers was Bill Meade of Meade Concrete. He gave $250 to Isaac and $500 each to Newberry and Gray.

Meade said he gave because he knows and likes all three.

"That's just the way I was brought up," he said. "My grandfather was from up in the mountains, and he was a politician. I haven't given great amounts to any of them but I have a little bit to all of them."

Home-builder Jimmy Nash also gave to all three, as did Betty Nichols, owner of Bluegrass Mailing Service.

Among those giving to Newberry and Gray were Robert Clay of Three Chimneys Farm, Lexmark chairman Paul Curlander, Greg Goodman, owner of Mount Brilliant Farm and Hamburg developers Anita and Preston Madden and their son Patrick.

Don Dugi, a political science professor at Transylvania University, said donors usually give to more than one candidate to "cover their bets." Contributors usually give more to incumbents, and to the candidate whose positions they think most closely match theirs, he said.

Newberry received 10 contributions from current and former employees of Kentucky American Water or its parent company, including $500 from company president Nick Rowe and $1,000 each from former president Roy Mundy and his wife, Karen.

Gray received contributions from people who supported the city's efforts to buy the utility, including $1,000 each from former Mayor Foster Pettit and horse breeder Warren Rosenthal, and $500 from attorney Foster Ockerman Sr.

Newberry, Gray and Isaac all say they oppose a rate increase proposed by Kentucky American, but Gray has made an issue of the mayor's support of a new treatment plant and pipeline that is behind the rate request.

Gray also has criticized Newberry for his support of the stalled CentrePointe development. But neither its developer Dudley Webb or anyone working for his companies made donations.

It is "problematic" to try to connect campaign contributions with favors from politicians, Dugi said. But a donor is likely to at least expect access to an office holder who had taken their money, he said.

"You can't take money from someone and not at least listen to them," he said.