Vice mayor will try to unseat Newberry

Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray, who has clashed with Mayor Jim Newberry on several key issues, will run for the top spot himself next year, he told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday.

"My decision has a lot to do with this city's current condition and its potential," Gray said.

His entry into the race sets up a contest against Newberry, who is seeking a second term, and former Mayor Teresa Isaac, whom Newberry beat three years ago. Political newcomer Eric Patrick Marr also is in the race.

Among his reasons for getting into the race, Gray cited Newberry's support of the now-stalled CentrePointe development in downtown Lexington and the mayor's reluctance to move quickly on an investigation of a spending scandal at Blue Grass Airport.

"I'm not running because Jim Newberry is a bad person at all," Gray said. "I'm running because Jim has made some bad decisions."

In a statement Tuesday night, Newberry said he welcomed Gray's entry into the race. Then he hit back.

"I look forward to discussing the vice mayor's record while he has served on the council over the past three years," Newberry said. "...While the vice mayor has chosen the role of Monday-morning quarterbacking, this campaign will be about Lexington's future."

Another candidate, former mayor Teresa Isaac, did not return a call seeking comment.

Newberry kicked off his campaign for a second term three weeks ago, telling supporters that Lexington is cleaner, greener and safer since he took office. If re-elected, he said, he would look for new ways to generate high-paying jobs, balanced against preserving farmland and emphasizing cultural activities.

Isaac told state election officials of her intention to run last February. During her four years as mayor, the city implemented Kentucky's first smoking ban. She also was mayor when the city tried to condemn Kentucky American Water using eminent domain.

Marr said in September he decided to run to improve economic development.

Gray, 56, is chairman and chief executive officer of Gray Construction, a Lexington-based, family-run business that has about 500 employees. The company builds factories, stores and other structures around the country.

His 31 years of business experience, along with three years on the Urban County Council, uniquely qualify him for the mayor's seat, he said. A Gray administration would focus on increasing jobs through economic development, he said.

"I have a real passion for development," Gray said. "The skill sets required daily are the skills I bring to the table."

Gray ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2002, being eliminated in the primary. Isaac went on to beat Scott Crosbie in the general election.

In 2006, Gray led a large field of candidates in the Urban County Council at-large race (the top at-large finisher becomes vice mayor).

In the 2002 race, Gray was worried about a whisper campaign about his personal life. That led to a decision in October 2005 to publicly acknowledge that he is gay. The issue didn't come up in the 2006 campaign. That, he said Tuesday, "confirmed that the people of Lexington have confidence in me."

Newberry's campaign reported last month it had raised $267,000 from more than 400 contributors since June. Isaac had raised $32,000 by Sept. 30, according to state campaign finance documents.

In both of his races, Gray's campaign was the top fund-raiser. Speaking of the coming race, he said, "I will raise what it takes to win."

His entry into the 2010 race brings interesting political dynamics into play.

In 2002, for example, Gray and Isaac both drew most of their votes from inside New Circle Road. Isaac did well with African-American voters. Gray's strongest areas were Chevy Chase and around the University of Kentucky.

After he lost the primary, Gray endorsed Isaac over Crosbie. This time around, Crosbie supports Gray.

Crosbie said Tuesday he has gotten to know Gray better.

"He's dealt with the problems facing those of us with children living in suburbs," Crosbie said. "I would have said eight years ago that he was only concerned with downtown."

Gray grew up in Barren County, a few years and a few miles from Newberry. When both men came into office three years ago, they struck a chord of cooperation that contrasted with the conflict between Isaac and Mike Scanlon, her vice mayor.

The first public tear in what was called "the two Jims" came over CentrePointe, which the Webb Cos. originally proposed as a $250 million, 40-story hotel, condominium and retail complex.

Gray calls the project "excessive extravagance at the worst possible time."

"I had seen it all over the country," he said, "and I knew that model was crumbling."