Mayor Jim Gray, challenger Anthany Beatty and six men vying to become Lexington's next vice mayor shared the stage for the first time Thursday night as campaigning for the Nov. 4 general election ramps up.
The forum at the Kentucky Theatre was hosted by the Fayette Alliance, Fayette County Farm Bureau and the Fayette County Neighborhood Council.
Gray, the incumbent, was the top vote-getter in the nonpartisan May mayoral primary. Beatty came in second, besting English professor Danny Mayer.
The top vote getter in the at-large race will become vice mayor on Nov. 4. The second- and third-place finishers will become at-large members of council and serve four-year terms.
Richard Moloney, a former council member and Urban County government administrator, was the top vote getter in May. Steve Kay, the only at-large incumbent, was second. Current Urban County Councilman Kevin Stinnett came in third. Former Urban County councilman and lawyer Bill Cegelka was fourth.
Also making the cut was Jon Larson, the Fayette County judge-executive, and Chris Logan, a minister and business owner.
The May primary included 13 at-large candidates, one of the largest fields in recent years.
Thursday's forum focused mainly on planning, development and land-use issues. But the biggest difference between the candidates was revealed in their views of how to address this summer's spike in murders and non-fatal stabbings
Gray said that the city has generated savings through changes to its health insurance policy and tweaks to other key programs when the city's revenues were declining in recent years.
"We translated those savings into investments in public safety," Gray said. Those investments include hiring additional police officers and updating equipment for police and firefighters.
The city has also spurred redevelopment of abandoned apartments — such as Pennington Place — which were havens for crime, Gray said.
Beatty, who was police chief for eight years and spent more than 30 years at the Lexington police department, said that much of the city's policing in recent years has been reactionary instead of proactive. If elected mayor, Beatty pledged to increase the number of police officers to "staffing levels that we need" as well as reinstate key programs that help deter crime, such as police recreational leagues.
"We also need partners," Beatty said.
Moloney, who served on the Urban County Council from 1987 until about 2007, said the city used to have dedicated police units that were part of neighborhoods. Those units went a long way toward helping deter crime. But Moloney said that too many of those units had been eliminated in recent years.
Stinnett, who has been on the council for a decade, said that all of those units have recently been restored. Stinnett said he also supports giving police more resources to deter crime, but he said that was only part of the solution. Education is also key, he said.
"We also need to invest in better jobs for people," Stinnett said. Stinnett said he has also recently proposed hiring a substance abuse coordinator, a position the city once had. That position could help address Lexington's growing heroin and other drug problems, he said.
Larson, a criminal defense attorney, said he would also like to see more attention given to jail and prison reform.
Logan said that he was thankful that city police officers were able to use their vehicles for personal errands, a recent change. The increased visibility of police could deter crime, he said.
Cegelka said he, too, would support more community policing. Cegelka served on the council from 2002 to 2006, representing the Wood-hill area. Residents there had an officer's cellphone number to call if they had problems. That built a lot of trust between the community and the police, he said.
Many of the candidates had similar ideas about how to grow Fayette County's brand as a community that protects its iconic farmland.
Agricultural tourism and ecotourism should also be pursued, many said.
But Kay cautioned that agricultural and ecotourism have to be done correctly and can't be done haphazardly.
"We have to protect our rural land," Kay said. All the stakeholders have to come together and develop a comprehensive plan that everyone can agree to, Kay said. Kay said he would appoint a task force to develop policies regarding agriculture tourism