With five former mayors looking on, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Mary Noble swore in Jim Gray as Lexington's new mayor Sunday afternoon before a standing-room-only crowd at the Bluegrass Ballroom of Lexington Center.
Gray and new Vice Mayor Linda Gorton took the oath of office and gave inauguration speeches.
In his address, Gray said he plans to promote Lexington aggressively as a place to live and do business. But he also said the city grapples with what he called "unprecedented challenges."
"Some of our major industries are weak, and our signature horse industry is really struggling. We're faced with stubborn unemployment and distressed business," he said.
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"Our city government is spending more than it takes in. We have staggering pension obligations and spiraling health costs. We are burdened by debt. Our people need jobs."
Yet Gray said from his experience in life and business, "during times of adversity the human spirit triumphs. It does not fail us."
He said Lexington has special strengths, including an extraordinary landscape, rich history, strong schools and universities, an entrepreneurial arts scene and educated, talented people.
"All these qualities which make us so special ... are also our competitive advantages," Gray said. "These are the very things that will help us win the global contest for business and for jobs."
He said: "As we're amplifying what makes Lexington special, we have a more important ... duty to create greater prosperity throughout our community. We must find inventive ways to create jobs." And, Gray said, "We must create new opportunities for the businesses we already have."
Gray, 57, had been the long-time chief executive for the family business, Gray Construction Co.
Gray's speech was a broad blueprint of what he hopes to accomplish rather than one filled with specifics. But his spirit of optimism seemed to resonate with the audience.
At a reception following the swearing-in ceremony, former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. said the community has "a spirit of enthusiasm and positive self-esteem like I've never seen."
He said it was due in part to the success of Alltech and the World Equestrian Games. "We need to build on that, and like Mayor Gray said, develop the assets we have."
Former Mayors Jim Amato, H. Foster Pettit, Scotty Baesler, Pam Miller and Teresa Isaac sat together during the ceremony.
Frank Mattone, the city's chief administrative officer under Amato, said of the new mayor, "He's a breath of fresh air. I'm inspired."
"He makes you feel like 'Let's get up and get going.' That's going to be good for the city going forward."
Miller said: "The whole day was very upbeat. We need that."
Gray, who had been vice mayor for four years, won a costly election in the fall over one-term Mayor Jim Newberry. Gray expressed appreciation to Newberry for his dedicated service to the city.
On the stage with Gray were both new and familiar faces on the political scene. Newcomers sworn in were Chris Ford, as council District 1 representative, and Steve Kay, for council-at-large. Former 5th District Councilman Bill Farmer was re-elected to represent his district.
Former Vice Mayor Isabel Yates introduced Vice Mayor Gorton, who said when she first took office in 1999 as the 4th District council member, "Isabel Yates was our newly elected vice mayor. She quickly became an important mentor for me."
In the audience were state legislators, mayors and officials from surrounding counties, and Gray's family, including his mother, Lois, brothers and sisters.
U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-6th District, said he liked the spirit of cooperation he heard from Gray and Gorton. "I hope 2011 will bring a spirit of cooperation at every level of government. We need that," Chandler said.
Gray, Kentucky's first openly gay mayor, saluted Lexington's spirit of "fairness, inclusion and real diversity" and the inaugural ceremony reflected some of that.
Among the performers there was a diversity of race, age and even musical genres — from Broadway to patriotic and spiritual.
Peggy Stamps, a free-lance choreographer and director, said Gray had requested a musically diverse ceremony.
The performers included Lexington Singers children's choir and University of Kentucky vocal student Reginald Smith, one of four winners of the regional Metropolitan Opera competition. On the other end of the musical spectrum was Jessie Rose Pennington, a country/pop singer who sang a Shaker song.
Gorton supporter Alice Ann Sanders said after the swearing-in ceremony that she appreciated the "talented performers, and the program was so diverse. That's something I like about the new mayor, he's fresh and inclusive."