A national real estate group’s political action committee has spent money on campaign advertisements encouraging people to vote for Ronnie Bastin in the race for Lexington mayor.
The National Association of Realtors Fund sent mailers to Fayette County residents this week that said Bastin will make Lexington safer and will make smart growth a priority. This may be the first time a PAC has spent money in a race for mayor of Lexington, according to longtime political observers.
“He’ll back projects that grow our community without disrupting our beautiful farmland,” the brochure said.
Bastin, a former Lexington police chief and public safety commissioner, faces former Vice Mayor Linda Gorton in the Nov. 6 general election.
Gorton said the mailer raises questions about Bastin’s stance on development issues. He has repeatedly said he supports keeping Lexington’s current growth boundary and expressed support for preserving farmland.
“It causes us to wonder why an organization that generally supports candidates who are pro-growth and pro-expansion of the Urban Service Boundary, would support this specific candidate,” Gorton said.
An outside group spending money in Lexington’s mayors race is troubling in itself, Gorton said.
Gorton, who spent 16 years on the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, said this is the first time she can remember a special interest group spending money to back a candidate for local office in Fayette County.
Jamie Emmons, a political consultant who ran Mayor Jim Gray’s two prior mayoral campaigns, said he can’t remember any outside money being pumped into the city’s mayoral elections.
“Outside special interest money in political elections can be a troubling thing, and can lead to outside groups steering votes toward a candidate who represents an industry’s special interests,” Gorton said.
Bastin said Gorton is “stuck in the ‘us vs. them’” mentality that has marred the debate over preservation and growth in Lexington.
“A Bastin Administration will bring a much needed fresh-perspective and fresh leadership to this issue,” Bastin said in a statement to the Herald-Leader. “Having talked extensively with both sides of the debate, I have found nearly everyone wants the same thing — a Lexington that preserves our character but is not hostile to development.”
Bastin said he can change “the culture” of debate surrounding the growth boundary.
Gorton has said she supports keeping the Urban Service Boundary where it is and has been a long-time supporter of the city’s Purchase of Development Rights program, which uses public money to protect farms in Fayette County from future development.
The Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors, commonly referred to as LBAR, has also endorsed Bastin. It’s director of government relations sent an email to some of its membership with a copy of the national real estate group’s mailer earlier this week.
A spokesperson for LBAR did not immediately return an email seeking comment. An email sent to officials with the National Association of Realtors also was not returned.
Gorton said she has been told that LBAR is only backing candidates who support some form of expansion of Lexington’s growth boundary.
“When I was interviewed there were a lot of questions about the need for land and the need for expansion,” Gorton said of her interview with LBAR representatives prior to the May primary.
Gorton and Bastin finished first and second respectively in the seven-way May 22 primary. Gorton received 42 percent of the vote and Bastin receiving 25 percent. No independent polls have been released in the race.
The National Association of Realtors Fund is based in Chicago. According to Open Secrets. org, the group has raised more than $12 million and spent more than $10.6 million as of Sept. 30.