Lexington is a polite city, and voters Nov. 6 will choose between two polite and genuinely nice people to be their next mayor.
But don’t let their aw-shucks demeanors fool you: Linda Gorton and Ronnie Bastin are tough, experienced city government leaders who would bring strong but different qualifications to Lexington’s top job.
Gorton, 69, a former vice mayor who was Lexington’s longest-serving councilwoman when she retired in 2014, was the overwhelming favorite in the seven-person race, getting 42 percent of the vote. A former nurse, she is a skilled consensus-builder with an impressive record of helping solve some of the city’s toughest problems.
Bastin, 61, a career Lexington police officer who served as police chief and public safety commissioner before resigning to run for mayor, was second with 26 percent of the vote. He is quiet and thoughtful, a good listener who has effectively managed top-notch public safety organizations that account for more than half the city’s budget.
The primary campaign was remarkably civil, with no negative ads or candidate attacks on each other at public forums. I would be surprised — and disappointed — if that changes much before November. Negative campaigning would be out-of-character for both Gorton and Bastin.
Voters will be best served if the candidates stress their experience, offer their ideas and let voters decide which vision for Lexington's future they find most compelling. There’s really no bad choice here.
And this is worth noting: One strength of Lexington government is that it is non-partisan. Gorton is a Republican, but has many Democrats supporting her. Bastin is a Democrat who enjoys wide support among Republicans. This lack of partisanship helps Lexington get things done, which explains why voters put their trust in two veteran leaders rather than seeking the "change" that seems to be a hallmark of most state and national races.
What I found most interesting about the primary results was the message they sent about Lexington’s biggest ongoing issue: Balancing urban growth and the need for more housing and jobs with preservation of Fayette County’s unique rural landscape and the large agricultural economy it supports.
During last year’s five-year comprehensive land-use plan update, public sentiment was strongly against expanding the Urban Services Boundary. That despite predictable calls for expansion from the development community. Stinnett emerged as the most pro-development member of the Urban County Council.
When he decided to run for mayor, he became the overwhelming choice of developers, real estate and construction people. Their contributions helped make Stinnett the race’s largest outside fundraiser, at $248,794. (Bastin technically raised more — $327,140 — but $110,000 of that was a personal loan to his campaign.)
Despite that money and support, Stinnett finished fourth with only 14 percent of the vote, behind former Mayor Teresa Isaac, a polarizing figure who got 16 percent.
By contrast, Gorton, who raised $150,645, was the overwhelming choice of farmers, including some of Lexington’s major horse farms, and others who oppose expansion of the Urban Services Boundary. Her victory margin left no doubt about where most voters stand on these issues.
It will be interesting to see where the development, real estate and construction money goes in the general election. Will developers try to woo Bastin? Or will they hedge their bets and give modest sums to both candidates?
Having spent his career in public safety, Bastin hasn’t dealt with development issues the way Gorton has. She understands these issues better than anyone. But in preparing for this race, Bastin clearly did his homework. He also has a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky, so he should understand the importance of Fayette County’s $2.3 billion agriculture economy.
Lexington has made a lot of progress in recent years with better planning, controlled growth, infill and redevelopment. Voters clearly don’t want to go back to the days when developers ran this city. If Lexington politicians didn’t understand that before, they certainly should now.