Newberry says forum panelist is biased

Mayor Jim Newberry says he will take part in Wednesday's mayoral forum even though one of the panelists is openly supporting Vice Mayor Jim Gray.

The panelist, Joe Sonka, writes a blog called Barefoot and Progressive. In addition to supporting Gray, he has been critical of Newberry and former mayor Teresa Isaac, who also is in the race.

The Newberry campaign said on its Facebook page Friday that two of the panelists were in Gray's camp. The second person was Rob Morris, the owner of Lowell's Independent Automotive, who had started a Facebook group of business leaders supporting Gray.

The Newberry campaign learned Monday that Morris had dropped off the panel before the issue of his participation was raised.

On the Facebook post Friday, the Newberry campaign said that "some incumbents" would turn down a debate invitation if there were unfriendly panel members, but that "Mayor Newberry is not afraid to answer questions about his record and his vision for the future."

Matt Bell, a spokesman for Newberry, said the campaign wanted to "make sure that the public knows that at least one of the panelists is openly biased."

A spokeswoman for Isaac said the campaign was aware of Sonka's participation.

"But it's up to the organizers of any forum to decide who they want to have post the questions and so forth," Susan Hammond said. "Teresa has always taken questions from anybody."

The fourth candidate in the race is Skip Horine, who has been largely ignored by Sonka.

The forum is the first of the campaign. It was organized by Kakie Urch, an assistant professor of multimedia at the University of Kentucky.

Urch noted Sonka will sit at a table with other bloggers, separate from the traditional media panel members from the Herald-Leader, the Kentucky Kernel, WKYT-TV and Business Lexington.

The bloggers represent "a new sector of journalism that has an opinion but is transparent about it, compared to the more traditional journalism that tries to be objective," Urch said.

The forum will be at 6 p.m., at 348 East Main Street, in a space with limited seating, but it will be available on Twitter, Facebook and several live text and video blogs.