When deciding which political candidate to vote for, it is always smart to follow the money.
In the Lexington mayor’s race, campaign contributions offer an interesting window into where contributors think the candidates stand on the perennial hot-button issue of suburban expansion vs. farmland preservation.
Depending who the next mayor is, Lexington could be in for big changes after years of holding the line on expanding the Urban Services Boundary and focusing on infill and redevelopment to protect the area’s unique rural landscape.
Seven candidates are running in the non-partisan May 22 primary. Four have a realistic chance of making it to the two-person general election Nov. 6. The winner will succeed two-term Mayor Jim Gray, who is running for Congress. Reports filed April 22 with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance show distinct contribution patterns with at least two candidates on development issues.
Kevin Stinnett, who has served 14 years on the Urban County Council, has raised $210,009. He is the overwhelming choice of developers, real estate executives, property managers, bankers, real estate attorneys, architects and construction contractors.
One reason may be the unsuccessful amendment Stinnett proposed last November when the council narrowly voted to keep the current Urban Services Boundary intact. Stinnett said his amendment would give the city more “flexibility” on future expansion, but others saw it differently.
“This is not flexibility,” Vice Mayor Steve Kay said at the time. “This is doing away with the boundary.”
Developers donating to Stinnett included Dennis Anderson, Woodford Webb, Jimmy Nash, Phil Greer, Patrick Madden, Andy Haymaker, Ralph Ruschell and Ron Turner. Some have posted big campaign signs for him on their commercial properties.
Stinnett also got contributions from political action committees for homebuilders, Kentucky American Water Co. and the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden. Retired water company president Roy Mundy and water contractor Warren Rogers also donated.
Linda Gorton, who retired in December 2014 after 16 years on the council, including four years as vice mayor, raised $128,280. She is the overwhelming choice of people who oppose expansion of the Urban Services Boundary, especially farm owners. Gorton has been a longtime advocate for Fayette County’s $2.3 billion agriculture sector, rural land preservation and urban infill and redevelopment.
Well-known farm owners donating to Gorton included Frank Penn, Josephine Abercrombie, Helen Alexander, Brutus Clay, Don Robinson and former Gov. Brereton Jones. Gorton’s strongest support, totaling $12,000, came from Mt. Brilliant Farm owner Greg Goodman and his family.
There were only a few Gorton donors in real estate or development, including Tim Haymaker and Robert Langley, both of whom gave equally to Gorton and Stinnett.
Ronnie Bastin, a Lexington Police officer for three decades who served as chief and resigned as public safety commissioner to make his first run for office, has raised $301,711. That includes $110,000 in personal loans to his campaign. Bastin has no political record on development and land-use issues, but he has a UK bachelor's degree in agriculture economics and touts infill development and agritourism.
Bastin received modest donations from developers Phil Greer, Rob McGoodwin and John Cirigliano, as well as real estate executive Jamie Schrader, banker Bill Alverson and banker Terry Forcht’s wife, Marion.
More substantial help came from attorney Terry McBrayer and Louisville developer Ronald Carmicle and his family. John Mahan of Mahan Farms in Bourbon County also donated. One curious trend in Bastin’s contributor list is coal industry executives, including L.D. Gorman, James Booth and Mark and Susan Campbell.
Teresa Isaac, who lost a re-election bid to Jim Newberry in 2006 after four years as mayor, six as vice mayor and two years as an at-large council member, reported raising $25,554. Most of her donations were small, with no real pattern except for a few contributions from Realtors at Keller Williams and her fellow lawyers.
Given everything else in the news, the mayor’s race has not gotten much attention. That makes it especially important for you to do your homework.
The council last year approved a 5-year comprehensive land-use plan that for the first time requires completion of a study by July 1, 2020 to determine triggers for opening more rural land for development. Who is appointed to that study committee — and whose interests they represent — could make a big difference in the study’s outcome and future development decisions.
Listen to what the candidates say. Look at what they have done. And, perhaps most of all, watch who is giving them money. One more pre-primary contributions report will be coming out soon. That’s the best way to make sure you vote for someone whose vision for Lexington’s future matches yours.