Fayette County

Lexington's 10th District council race pits political newcomer against one-term incumbent

Harry Clarke
Harry Clarke

In the election for the Urban County Council's 10th District seat, challenger Amanda Mays Bledsoe is seeking to unseat incumbent Harry Clarke after his first term.

Despite being a political newcomer, Bledsoe has outraised Clarke three to one in their battle to represent an area that stretches along Harrodsburg Road from Southland Drive to the county line and along New Circle Road from Nicholasville Road to near Versailles Road.

As of Oct. 3, Bledsoe had raised $40,106 for the election, with $6,285 coming in the past three months, according to the latest filings with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Including the primary, Bledsoe had spent only about $3,000. She has received $500 from the Republican Party of Central Kentucky and $500 from the Lexington Firefighters PAC.

Clarke had raised $13,872.58, with $6,330 coming in the last three months. He has spent more than $12,000. His biggest fundraisers have been two informal neighborhood gatherings that raised $1,125 in July and $1,400 in September.

Harry Clarke

Clarke, a retired University of Kentucky music professor, got into politics through a neighborhood association, which he said can be a powerful force for good.

"I really believe in the neighborhood associations," Clarke said. "I've reconstituted six now, and we're not done."

Clarke said some of the major concerns he has focused on are traffic, especially on busy Harrodsburg Road, and stormwater drainage, particularly in the older neighborhoods near Southland Drive.

Last winter, Clarke lobbied the General Assembly with Mayor Jim Gray on downtown revitalization efforts, including the failed bid for bonding to revamp Rupp Arena and build a new convention center.

Clarke said his support was more about the perks the project could bring to the city's center.

"I think the whole thing goes beyond Rupp Arena. If Rupp Arena happened, ... I think there were other things it was going to help us with," Clarke said. "Like the arts and entertainment district, which I'm very much supportive of; enlarging our convention center, which is simply too small to host the kind of conventions Lexington would be really attractive to; and the whole concept of residential and retail downtown is where we're trying to go. ... All great cities have great downtowns, and I think that's where the mayor was going."

Amanda Mays Bledsoe

Bledsoe, who worked for years with the Council of State Governments, headquartered in Lexington, said funding the Rupp Arena project was not on the agenda for most voters in her district.

"I love Rupp Arena; I think it's iconic in many ways," Bledsoe said. "But when I walked this district, there was no movement for putting tax dollars into that at the level that was being discussed."

Bledsoe said she would focus on other issues, including enhancing playgrounds and neighborhood space.

Walking and bike trails in parks are great, but they need to connect neighborhoods and parks, she said, to "create a sense of community, and they need to be safe."

Bledsoe said that nearby Wolf Run Park, which isn't in her district, hosts Little League baseball practices, but parents have complained about finding used needles in the playground, and there was a shooting there last spring.

Bledsoe, who has been endorsed by Lexington Fraternal Order of Police and by the Lexington Professional Fire Fighters union, said safety can be enhanced with measures such as the Home Fleet program, which allows police officers to take patrol cars home.

"Having that presence is really important," she said.

Public safety pensions

Funding future pension obligations for firefighters and police officers is likely to be another big issue for the city council in coming years, both candidates acknowledged.

Bledsoe said she has heard that Lexington has had trouble recruiting because the city's retirement benefits might not be as competitive.

In 2013, the city negotiated a deal to reduce the unfunded pension liability. As part of the deal, police and firefighters must pay more, work longer to get full pension benefits and new hires receive fewer benefits.

"How do we honor what we've promised to retirees, yet make it work for the future?" Bledsoe asked. "You have to make concessions; you can't pay what you don't have. But it has to be sustainable."

Clarke said the issue is likely to resurface when the city next renegotiates contracts for police and firefighters.

"All of us are very concerned that we have great police and fire departments, and we want those people to be well paid," Clarke said. "But we have to be concerned about how we function when people retire. We can't just suddenly raise taxes to pay people more."