Politics & Government

Challengers hope to unseat four Lexington council members on Nov. 6

Four incumbent members of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council face a challenger in their bids for re-election on Nov. 6.

The tightest race is widely thought to be in the 3rd District, which includes the downtown business district, the University of Kentucky and several historic neighborhoods. In that race, political newcomer Stephanie Spires, 31, is trying to unseat Diane Lawless, 61, who is completing her second two-year term on the council.

Other incumbents with challengers include:

■ 1st District Councilman Chris Ford, 36, who is finishing his first term. He is running against Marty Clifford, 58, a real-estate developer and neighborhood activist.

■ 4th District Councilman Julian Beard, 74, who is seeking his fourth term against Sam Cox, 20, a University of Kentucky student.

■ 12th District Councilman Ed Lane, who faces real-estate developer Ralph Ruschell.

3rd District

Balancing the demand for student housing with the desires of single-family home owners in established neighborhoods surrounding UK has been a major campaign issue in the race.

Diane Lawless successfully advocated for a temporary ban on vinyl-box additions in the area, followed by a zoning ordinance that limits the number of unrelated people who may live in a rental property. Also, fines were increased for violations of city building codes.

"There is a huge number of really bad landlords with properties that aren't safe. They are no friend to students," said Lawless, a licensed clinical social worker who retired after many years with the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.

Stephanie Spires, a fund-raising consultant for non-profits, said the new regulations have been ineffective.

Spires said the university's decision to open an office to deal with off-campus housing issues was a key first step that gives students a way to complain about unsafe conditions. Still, some students won't complain because they fear getting kicked out of their apartments, she said.

"I want to work with UK on a safe means for students to report housing issues," she said.

Both candidates say cleaning up Phoenix Park is a priority.

Lawless recently proposed an ordinance that would ban smoking in the park, which is used heavily by individuals without homes. She also supports changing the design of the park to make it more open and safer.

Spires, who has campaigned to make the park smoke-free, said the change would cut down on loitering, littering and promote a healthy lifestyle. She also supports closing the park from 3 to 6 a.m. and banning repeat offenders.

"People who are in the park are vagrants and a criminal element,'' Spires said. "We need to give the police tools to clean up the park so it's a park everybody can use.,"

As of Oct. 5, Spires had raised $8,404 for her campaign and had $6,349 left to spend. Lawless had raised $17,009 and had $12,986 cash on hand, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

1st District

Incumbent Chris Ford and challenger Marty Clifford both say creating jobs and a friendly business climate will be top priorities for them in the 1st District, which goes from just north of the downtown business district to beyond Interstate 75 at Russell Cave Road.

Clifford said he wants to streamline the city's permitting process so it is easier to open a small business, then waive all city fees for the first three years.

Clifford organized the North Limestone Neighborhood Association, which has helped spur a rebirth of the corridor. The neighborhood association has worked closely with police to make the North Limestone area safe for small businesses and pedestrians, something Clifford said he would do in other sections of the 1st District if elected.

During his first term, Ford took the lead in advocating for renovation of the Charles Young Center, which recently reopened as a community center in the East End.

Addressing youth violence, he chaired the Commission on Youth Development and Public Safety, and pushed to expand summer activities and job opportunities for Lexington youth.

As a member of the council's Social Services Committee, he asked the city to seek federal urban-development funds that spur economic development by rewarding businesses that hire low- to moderate-income workers. Recently, the city said it would seek those funds for the 21c Museum Hotel project.

Ford, who has a master's degree in public administration, also has worked with the city to form a work group to address chronically neglected buildings.

"Blighted property diminishes property values and is a danger to children," he said.

Ford reported Oct. 5 that his campaign had raised $7,154.42 and had $3,151.45 left to spend. Clifford did not report raising any money.

4th District

Financial issues facing the city are a major concern for incumbent Julian Beard and challenger Sam Cox in the district — a slice of South Lexington wedged between Tates Creek and Nicholasville roads.

Beard, a banker and former economic development director for the city, serves on a task force looking at ways to resolve financial problems in the police and fire pension fund.

The pension fund, which is controlled by the state legislature but funded by the city, faces an unfunded liability of about $260 million, Beard said. When costs for retiree medical expenses are added, the expected shortfall grows to more than $550 million, he said.

"It's a complex problem, and the question is, will we get any help from the legislature?" Beard said.

The task force is trying to put together a plan that is "palatable to us, to police and fire, and to the legislature," Beard said. "It's really a tough situation. There isn't a crisp answer to this."

Cox, a junior in environmental health science at UK, said he would work to put more money in the city's rainy-day fund, which he said is underfunded.

Lexington has $14.5 million in its reserve fund, which equals about 5 percent of the city's annual budget.

"Boone County puts 12 percent in their rainy-day fund; Louisville puts 13 percent; and Lexington contributes 5 percent, the lowest of all cities in Kentucky," Cox said.

He said he would "skim a little bit from each city division" to put in the rainy-day fund.

Cox did not report raising any money for his campaign. Beard reported raising $5,621 and spending nothing as of Oct. 22.

12th District

Incumbent Ed Lane said the police and fire pension fund is the most serious issue facing the community. His opponent, Ralph Ruschell, declined to be interviewed for this story.

"We have to get the legislature to change the plan," Lane said. "Until we do that, we are trapped."

Financial consequences could be dire for the city.

"If the state doesn't address our pension fund, and the debt keeps escalating, it may force the city to do some sort of structured reorganization of its debt under the U. S. Bankruptcy Court," he said.

Lane called plans to renovate Rupp Arena and build a new convention center "forward-looking ideas" but said it would have to wait until the pension-fund issue is resolved.

Lane reported raising $41,014 as of Oct. 22 and had $13,300 on hand. Ruschell reported raising no money for his campaign.

The district covers rural Fayette County.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader