Vice Mayor Linda Gorton announced Thursday that she will not seek re-election in 2014 after spending nearly 16 years on the Urban County Council.
When her term is completed in 14 months, Gorton will be the longest-serving council member since the merged government began in 1974.
Surrounded by many current and former council members and friends, Gorton, 65, announced her decision Thursday at the Government Center.
"I have been thinking about this for a long time," Gorton said. "This is the right time for me to step down and focus on family. ... I've put a lot of things on hold for a long time."
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Gorton said she has decided to start a new chapter in her life and spend more time with her husband, Charlie, and her children and grandchildren. She also plans to write and travel. She has always written poetry but would also like to write fiction, she said.
Her first novel?
"Murder in the Council Chambers," Gorton joked.
She said she's proud of what she has been able to accomplish in her nearly 16 years.
"During these years, I've had a ringside seat which has allowed me to champion important legislative initiatives including sweeping environmental reforms like clean indoor air, water quality ordinances, agriculture land preservation and the fairness ordinance."
Many members of the council praised Gorton for her steady leadership, kindness and evenhanded approach to sometimes thorny local issues and difficult personalities.
Council member Peggy Henson said Gorton was one of the top public officials she has served with. "She's been one of the best," Henson said.
Former longtime council member Dr. David Stevens also praised Gorton. Of all the council members he served with, "she's on the top of the list."
Gorton has been a role model to several women on the council, other council members said Thursday.
"I have watched and tried to learn from Linda," said Councilwoman Shevawn Akers, who was first elected to the council in 2012. "The way that she presents issues, the way that she lobbies and works on issues, even the way she talks. She's so well-spoken and thoughtful in her speech. I have really watched her and tried to learn from her."
Gorton said Thursday that she never forgot that the people were her boss. She thanked them for 16 years of support.
"I love my job and I love our city," she said. "It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be elected by the people of Lexington."
Gorton has served with four mayors: Pam Miller, Teresa Isaac, Jim Newberry and Jim Gray. She spent her first eight years on the council representing the Fourth District. She is in her second term as an at-large council member. She was the top vote-getter in the at-large race in 2010, making her vice mayor.
Gray praised Gorton on Thursday and thanked her for her years of service.
"In the spirit of Isabel Yates, Linda Gorton has contributed so much to Lexington as a councilmember, health-care professional and civic volunteer," Gray said. "She's been a friend to Lexington, and thankfully she'll continue in that role."
Yates also represented the Fourth District and served as vice mayor until 2002.
Gorton said Thursday that although several people have encouraged her to run for mayor, she would prefer to spend more time with her husband, who has been retired now for four years.
"It's not on my to-do list," Gorton said of the city's top job, but she didn't rule out future runs for office. "Life is full of surprises."
Gorton's departure leaves a substantial opening in the 2014 race for the at-large council seat.
Gorton said she decided to make her announcement early so potential candidates could decide whether they wanted to run.
"It's now wide open," Gorton said. At-large Council member Chuck Ellinger II also won't seek re-election because of term limits. Only incumbent at-large Council member Steve Kay can run for one of three positions.
Council member Jennifer Mossotti, who served on the council from 1998 to 2004 and was elected again in 2012, said Thursday that she won't run for an at-large seat. But she expects other council members to throw their hats in the ring.
"I think you'll have the council members looking at the seats now that she's not going to run, because she's a formidable opponent," Mossotti said. "There will also be members of the community."
Council member Kevin Stinnett said Thursday that he is "definitely" considering running for an at-large position. He will make a formal announcement in the coming weeks.
"I love serving," Stinnett said." It's my passion and there is nothing more honorable or fulfilling." Stinnett is currently in his fifth term on council.