Politics & Government

Urban County Council veteran looking to make up ground on newcomer in 3rd District race

Chuck Ellinger Jr., left, and Jake Gibbs
Chuck Ellinger Jr., left, and Jake Gibbs

A 12-year Urban County Council veteran and a political newcomer are facing off in November's General Election to determine who will represent Lexington's 3rd District.

In this case it's the veteran — at-large Councilman Chuck Ellinger Jr. — who has ground to make up against his rookie challenger, J. "Jake" Gibbs.

Gibbs, 61, easily topped the field in May's primary, grabbing 55 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Ellinger. Rock Daniels was a distant third.

Ellinger, a 50-year-old attorney, was first elected to the council in November 2002, and he has been re-elected twice since then. Now legally barred from seeking a fourth at-large term, he is running for the 3rd District seat instead.

The seat is open since incumbent Diane Lawless isn't running for re-election. Lawless confirmed that she is backing Gibbs in the race.

"I didn't realize Chuck was going to run," she said. "I've known Jake a long time, and I think he'd be a real advocate for the 3rd District."

The district encompasses much of the downtown Lexington business district and the University of Kentucky campus, with Rupp Arena immediately nearby.

Gibbs, a professor who teaches history and logic at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, said he's well versed in Lexington politics even though this is his first run for office. He has worked on campaigns for other candidates in the past, he said.

"I think I have some things to contribute," he said. "I love cities; I study cities. I've been all over the U.S. and a good part of Europe. I think I've got a pretty good idea what works in cities and what doesn't."

He said he'd bring a fresh, new approach.

"I'd be a strong advocate for making Lexington more walkable and bikeable. I think that's the trend throughout the country," he said. "Young people today want to live in places where you can walk, where you can bike."

Ellinger, citing his long council experience, sees himself taking a more traditional role if elected.

"I understand the competing interests and needs of all parties concerned," he said. "So I bring a lot of experience and knowledge. I wouldn't need any learning curve.

"As the current chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, I understand how important it is to make sure we have enough money to provide services for our citizens. We need to make sure we're doing everything we can as a government to promote jobs and economic development."

Ellinger and Gibbs share similar views on several issues.

Both like UK's new dorm-building effort, hoping it will encourage more students to live on campus and take some of the strain off adjacent neighborhoods now lined with student housing.

Both support UK's plans to extend its Student Code of Conduct to off-campus areas in reaction to the wild street parties that often follow UK ball games.

Gibbs also said city Code Enforcement must do more, and have more clout, to help make neighborhoods near UK more livable.

"There are some great landlords ... But I think some just absorb these $25 and $50 fines and then don't fix things," he said. "The fines need to go up."

Ellinger, a former Town and Gown Committee member, said he's pleased that UK might revise its long-standing policy banning alcohol on campus.

"I think that policy was one of the issues that led to the deterioration of neighborhoods around UK, because so many students moved off campus," he said. "With UK trying to expand on-campus housing, it should help bring those neighborhoods back as places for families to live."

Both candidates said UK and the city must keep working together despite any friction over renovations at Rupp Arena.

"All parties need to get together and decide what they want for Rupp Arena," Ellinger said. "Rupp needs some improvement ... but I don't think it's going to be near the $350 million project that was initially proposed."

Gibbs said he's "hopeful" for a compromise on the renovation of Rupp.

"I'd like to see the city and UK come to agreement," he said. "I think it's in the best interests of both, and I think they realize that."

Lexington is studying the possibility of switching some downtown streets from one-way to two-way, and Gibbs said the idea has appeal. But some "hot spot" streets might be hard to convert, he said.

"What I want is a better pedestrian experience, and to slow traffic down a little," he said. "Something has to be done about Vine Street, which seems to have been designed by people who design raceways.

"But I'm not an ideologue about it. If two-way streets aren't the way for us to go, I'd examine other options."

Ellinger said the city must "be very careful" if it decides to change traffic flows downtown.

"Some streets, like Fourth Street, have potential to become two-way," he said. "There is talk about Limestone being two-way, but we've spent a lot of money to improve that street and I'd hate to go back and redo it. I'm also apprehensive about doing Main and Vine. I don't think I could support that."

According to Ellinger's most recent campaign finance report, he's raised $17,675.94, most of that money brought forward from his primary campaign, plus $5,000 he loaned the campaign.

Gibbs has raised $5,993, most of it in itemized contributions, according to his latest report.

He said he's "optimistic" about the election, based on his performance in the spring.

"But I'm knocking on doors and working really hard," he said. "I'm not taking anything for granted."

Ellinger said the same thing.

"We're going to keep working until the polls close, and hope we win," he said.