Surrounded by cheering supporters, Mayor Jim Gray recently stood in the center of the airy first floor of Gray Construction as he detailed the accomplishments of his first term in office.
Gray shored up the city's finances. He made changes to city employees' health insurance plan, which was consistently running millions over budget. The 61-year-old mayor tweaked the police and fire pension, saving taxpayers millions and ensuring the longevity of the fund. More people in the city are employed than any other time in its history — 9,000 more people have jobs in 2014 than did when he took office in January 2011.
"We are getting things done," Gray said. "But there are still things that need to be done."
To scratch off more things from his to-do list, Gray needs the majority of Lexington residents to vote for him on Nov. 4.
If Gray were victorious, he would be the first mayor to win a second term in more than a decade. But Anthany Beatty, 63, a former Lexington police chief and Gray's opponent, wants to make Gray a one-term mayor.
In debates and on the stump, Beatty says Gray has made several missteps: He took his eye off of public safety, resulting in a spike in violent crime this summer and fall. Gray had little support from the public and the University of Kentucky when he pushed for an overhaul of Rupp Arena and an attached convention center. Gray later nixed the project after UK, Rupp's marquee tenant, signaled it was not behind the plan.
"We all make mistakes," Beatty said. "But when a mayor keeps making mistakes and makes bad decisions, it's time for a new leader."
Although no independent polls have been released in the race for Lexington's top job, Gray has the clear lead in both name recognition and fundraising.
Gray has out-raised Beatty four to one during the general election, according to October campaign finance reports.
Gray reported raising $321,239 from May 21 until Oct. 3. He had $162,957 cash on hand, according to reports filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Beatty raised $76,491 and has $57,821 available. Of that $76,491, Beatty loaned the campaign $12,000.
In the May primary, Gray received 56.6 percent of the vote compared to Beatty who received 37.9 percent.
That's the largest margin of victory for a sitting mayor in a May primary in 20 years. English professor Danny Mayer finished a distant third with roughly 5 percent of the vote. The top two vote getters in the May primary move on to the general election.
The race is non-partisan.
Gray has been a mainstay in Lexington politics for more than a decade.
The construction chief ran for local office several times before successfully receiving the most votes in the at-large race in 2006, becoming vice mayor. He later beat incumbent Mayor Jim Newberry in a close race in 2010.
Gray, the former CEO of Gray Construction, is also wealthy. Although he hasn't dipped into his personal funds for this campaign, he spent $900,000 of his own money in the 2010 race against Newberry. Experts say that wealth, along with his name recognition, gives Gray an advantage.
"I often tell my students if you want to run for public office, you have to be personally wealthy or you have to have an established network that can give large amounts of funds," said Don Gross, a professor of political science at UK. "Gray has both of those advantages."
To win, Beatty has to convince voters that it's time for a change, Gross said. And he needs more money to do that.
Beatty said earlier this month that he's not sure whether he will have the money for television advertisements but will have radio ads up soon.
In contrast, Gray's first television advertisement started airing in late September.
Beatty acknowledges that he has an uphill battle in the remaining weeks before the election. But he's in it to win it, he said.
He will make up for a lack of money and air time with face time with voters, he said.
"There's 80 events between early October and Nov. 4," Beatty said.
Retail politics, in an RV
On any given Saturday in October, Beatty, his 2009 Fleetwood RV and campaign volunteers wearing green T-shirts can be found handing out campaign literature and meeting voters at local shopping centers.
On any given Sunday, Beatty can be found in the pew of a local church, sometimes attending several different services in one day.
His frequent companion is his wife of 38 years, Eunice Beatty, and his two sons, Tony and Embry, their wives and his five grandchildren. Beatty's backers say Eunice Beatty is one of Anthany Beatty's biggest assets. She's also one of his favorite conversation topics. Eunice Beatty began her career as a dental hygienist, later went back to school and eventually earned a Ph.D in education and spent her career in education.
Between the two, they have served on nearly two dozen nonprofit boards and have been longtime volunteers in the community.
"This is a good bargain for our community, we're getting two for the price of one," said Kathy Plomin, a longtime friend of the Beatty family and former president and CEO of the United Way of the Bluegrass.
Beatty's roots in Lexington run deep. He grew up in Bluegrass Aspendale, went to segregated Lexington schools, eventually attended Eastern Kentucky University and Kentucky State University. He spent 35 years as a Lexington police officer, serving the last seven years — from 2001 to 2007 — as chief. He has been an assistant vice president at UK since 2008.
Plomin has helped the Beattys organize small meet and greets in people's homes outside of New Circle Road, areas where Beatty did poorly in the May primary.
"People who meet him, really like him," Plomin said. "If you look up integrity in the dictionary, there's a picture of Anthany next to it."
Beatty and Gray agree on many things: Both support keeping the current urban services boundary, both back efforts to boost affordable housing in Lexington, both say increasing Internet speeds in the city is key to economic development.
Much of the general election campaign has centered on crime.
Gray has repeatedly said he has spent $25 million on public safety in the past three years, more than any other administration. They have hired 165 police officers and 111 fire fighters.
"He's trying to spin sell this," Beatty said of Gray's record on public safety. At the end of 2009, the police department had 569 officers. By the end of 2011, that number had dropped to 519 officers, Beatty said. In 2012, Gray and the Urban County Council agreed to hire more police officers after the city's finances began to recover. In 2013, there were 554 police officers.
"Jim's spent $25 million because he had to play catch up," Beatty said.
The number of police officers fluctuate over the course of a year, city officials said. Jamie Emmons, Gray's chief of staff, said cuts to the police department actually started under former Mayor Jim Newberry after the city's revenues took a nose dive during the recession.
Emmons said Gray has authorized new recruit classes in fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014. The city currently has 547 officers and plans to add more, he said. No police officers were ever laid off, but some vacancies were not filled during lean times to make up for a nearly $30 million shortfall.
Gray's efforts to hire more police and fire is too little too late, Beatty said.
"We didn't have this type of violence in our community five or 10 years ago," Beatty said.
But to get elected, Beatty has to do more than just talk about public safety, Gross said.
"We have had some well-covered criminal acts," Gross said. " I'm not sure if there is a widespread perception that we need a much larger police force. I don't think this gets much traction with voters."
If elected, Beatty said he will be more than a public safety mayor. Beatty said he wants to improve the city's facilities and grounds, which he says have been neglected in recent years. Gray has focused too much attention on downtown and not enough on the city's neighborhoods and parks, he said.
But more importantly, Beatty says he will make sure to include all people in discussions about Lexington's future. Gray pushed ahead with a renovation of Rupp Arena and an attached convention center even though he didn't have the support of the public to use taxpayer money on the project, Beatty said.
Retired Assistant Police Chief Billy Thompson worked with Beatty at the police department for decades. Beatty listens first, then acts, Thompson said.
"He would let everybody have their input and then he would make a decision," Thompson said.
Beatty said that's the key difference between himself and Gray.
"Jim Gray is a builder of buildings," Beatty said. "I'm a builder of neighborhoods and communities. I want to be mayor for all of Lexington."
Taking nothing for granted
Gray said that despite his fundraising edge and strong showing in the May primary, he's still running the campaign like he's 20 points down. He's running television advertisements, doing campaign events and on top of all that, running the city.
"It's 24-7," he said. "But I love what I do. I always say that if you love what you do, you never really work a day in your life."
On the stump and in debates, Gray repeatedly hits three main points — he's worked to create jobs, he has run government efficiently and is working to make Lexington a great American city.
Several major companies have come to Lexington since Gray took office, including law firm Bingham McCutchen which brought its operations center to Lexington. Other companies, such as Tiffany's, expanded. Lexington's unemployment has returned to 6.4 percent from a high of nearly 8.6 percent in February 2010, during the height of the recession.
Gray tackled thorny and long-standing financial problems particularly in the first two years in office, including making changes to city employees' health insurance and overhauling the police and fire pension fund. The city had a $27 million deficit when he took office. It now has surpluses.
"Jim is not afraid to tackle big problems," said Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, the city's longest-serving council member who has worked with Gray for eight years. "I was on his public safety transition team and we discovered a lot issues that had not been dealt with. Jim was not afraid of facing those issues."
But Gray has also frequently locked horns with the city's unions. When Gray faced a deficit in 2011, he asked the police, fire and correction officer unions for $5.6 million in savings over several years. The police agreed to limit driving police cruisers to and from work as part of that agreed savings. But when those limits did generate the savings as expected, the city and the police union got into a disagreement about how to re-instate the take-home use benefit.
Gray eventually reinstated the benefit via executive order, angering officials with the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge #4, who said Gray did not have the authority to unilaterally change a collective bargaining agreement.
The FOP has endorsed Beatty. Gray's campaign said they weren't surprised that the union endorsed the former police chief.
Nonetheless, they will continue to work with the police to make Lexington safer.
Gray said he understands that to get the job done and do what's best for the city's bottom line, he has to ruffle some feathers. Voters understand that, he said.
"People come up to me all the time and say: 'I don't agree with everything that you have done, but I think you're doing it in the right way,'" Gray said.
During his first two years, there was a lot of churn in key positions. For example, the city has had three Environmental and Public Safety commissioners in a little less than four years. Other key divisions, such as the director of traffic engineering, went unfilled for a year, although there were interim directors who oversaw day-to-day operations.
He also asked for former Lexington Fire Chief Robert Hendricks' resignation, but Hendricks refused.
The turnover is not because he's difficult to work with, he said.
"We are looking for the best people to do the job," Gray said.
Gray points out he also kept political appointees from Newberry's administration, including city spokeswoman Susan Straub and Shaye Rabold, who was Newberry's chief of staff.
Isabel Yates, a former vice mayor who spent 11 years on the Urban County Council, has been a long-time supporter of Gray. She's known the Gray family for decades.
"I think his business experience has been his greatest asset," Yates said. "We're on a better financial footing than we have been in a very long time."
Yates said that Gray's tenure as vice mayor also served him well.
"Being vice mayor, he realized how important it is to work with the council," Yates said.
Gorton also credits Gray for being able to look at issues from 3,000 feet.
"Jim Gray really understands the big picture," she said.
But Gorton said that Gray should have included the council during the early planning stages of the now-defunct Rupp Arena project. Some council members expressed reservations about the project because they did not know how the $350 million project would be financed.
"I think in the beginning, more people could have been included, in particular council members," Gorton said. "We are the ones that have to allocate the money."
Gray, however, has repeatedly said there was plenty of opportunity for public input, including dozens of public meetings. Gray will not say whether the plan would be resurrected if he wins in November.
"When the time is right, the plan is ready," Gray said.