Lexington mayor's race heats up

The campaign for mayor of Lexington is heating up, with political charges that have been traded at forums now moving into living rooms through television ads.

Last week, Vice Mayor Jim Gray aired an ad that faulted Mayor Jim Newberry for his "mistakes" on the stalled CentrePointe development, an audit of Blue Grass Airport and the city's water supply.

Newberry fired back, saying it was Gray who has made mistakes and charging that Gray had done nothing to correct what Gray says were the mayor's errors.

Former Mayor Teresa Isaac also is on television, with an ad showing a scowling Newberry facing a scowling Gray, while an announcer says that several fees have increased "with these two men running our government."

Campaign finance reports filed Monday show that Gray, who poured hundreds of thousands of his own money into his two previous races, has loaned $100,000 to the current effort.

Gray also raised $21,000 from donors in the last two weeks, for a total of $460,000 for the campaign.

Newberry still is the top money-raiser, bringing in $48,000 in the most recent period and $548,000 for the campaign.

Isaac raised $7,000 since the last report and $75,000 in all.

Lexington voters will go to the polls May 18 and decide which two of the three should advance to November's final vote on who will guide the city for the next four years. A fourth candidate, businessman Skip Horine, is running a limited campaign and has not accepted contributions.

So far, the race has been defined by clashes between Newberry and Gray. The city's top two officials grew up less than 15 miles apart in Barren County and came into office 31/2 years ago with promises of cooperation that were a contrast to the combative relationship between Isaac and then-Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon.

Gray began his campaign in early December with the suggestion that Newberry was "a good guy" who had made "some bad decisions." By last week, he was talking about breaking through "the scandal barrier" that was Newberry's doing.

Newberry counters that Gray has been a do-nothing vice mayor with no record of accomplishments. Last weekend, Newberry suggested that Gray is taking positions on issues such as the CentrePointe project simply to have something to campaign on.

Gray says Newberry has described the Urban County Council as the best in the history of the city-county government, and that he found fault with Gray only after the vice mayor announced he wanted the top job.

"Mike Scanlon and I disagreed on local ownership of the water company; it seems like these two disagree on everything," Isaac said last weekend.

She has attempted to link Newberry and Gray to raising business license fees and closing fire stations.

Isaac often talks about programs her administration started to help youth and the elderly and promises the return of "a caring spirit" at city hall.

Isaac was a supporter of the legal effort for the city to acquire Kentucky American Water through eminent domain and backed a ban on public smoking. She says both of those were the right thing to do, but probably cost her votes in the last election.

The candidates have trudged to at least 10 forums or debates, most of which were sparsely attended. At one, there were four candidates and four people asking questions for an audience of 10 potential voters.

At each gathering, Gray lays out his complaints about Newberry. He says the mayor was too accepting of developer Dudley Webb's CentrePointe project that leveled a downtown block, too late in supporting an outside audit of spending at the airport, and wrong to back Kentucky American's new treatment plant and pipeline.

Gray says Newberry should have exhibited more "active involvement and intervention" to stop the destruction of the CentrePointe block for a project that Gray says was obviously doomed from the beginning. Newberry replies that there were no tax dollars in the project and that it is wrong for public officials to "oppose an otherwise lawful project simply because they don't like how it looks or who's doing it."

Newberry says he has managed the city well through the worst economic downturn in 80 years, while tackling issues that have long been ignored. Specifically, the city settled a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by the Environmental Protection Agency and, as a result, is fixing longstanding sewer problems. The city also is putting money into a long-underfunded police and firefighter pension fund.

It's a non-partisan race, but the three main contenders are registered Democrats. Horine is a Republican. Each has strong advocates and those who find them wanting.

David Stevens, a former district and at-large council member, backs Newberry.

Stevens said Newberry has tackled tough issues and has a vision for the future. The faltering economy dealt him a bad hand, Stevens said.

"I think's he's a good manager, which I don't think Teresa was, and I don't think Jim Gray would be," Stevens said.

Hayward Wilkirson of Preserve Lexington, a group that tried to stop demolition of the CentrePointe block, said he was disappointed in Newberry's support of the project.

"He too quickly aligned himself with (the developers), and I thought he bristled very quickly at any criticism of his leadership," Wilkirson said.

Overall, Wilkirson said, he would give Newberry a "C."

Gray is sometimes portrayed as "the visionary guy," and might even have fostered that image of himself in previous campaigns, his friend and supporter Alan Hawse said.

But Hawse, who manages the Lexington office of a high-tech company, said that's not the case at all.

"He's the CEO of a major construction company, and that's a big deal," Hawse said. "He has the kind of true management skills that make him extraordinary."

On the stump, Gray frequently claims that his company, Gray Construction, has created 22,000 jobs because it helped with the site selection of factories that employed that many people.

Scanlon, the former vice mayor, said Gray claiming credit for creating those jobs is "very deceiving."

"They have people (at Gray) who will help an industrial customer select a site," Scanlon said. "It's like a Realtor, and they get paid for doing that."

Scanlon admitted that he had a dispute with Gray over the cost of the Main + Vine development downtown, of which Scanlon was half-owner. He said he was a fan of Gray's when he came into office, but that business deal and Gray "not doing anything" as vice mayor, changed his opinion.

"There are two types of government officials — policy-makers and bosses," Scanlon said. "Jim Gray is a dreamer; he's not the boss of anything."

Former 11th District Councilman Paul Brooks is supporting Isaac because, as mayor, she "was more worried about the little people than the big ones."

"She's out in the public a lot," Brooks said. "She was willing to talk to the people and wanted to know what they wanted and what they needed."

Scanlon, Isaac's old political foe, said Isaac did a good job reducing the size of government when she was running the city. But he takes issue with her contention that the city had a $5 million deficit when she arrived and a $12 million surplus when she left.

"She is suggesting that the government brought in $12 million more than it spent — that never happened," he said.

Isaac said she based her claim on figures supplied by her budget director in her unsuccessful 2006 re-election bid.

One thing that can be said for all four candidates is that they've been on this campaign circuit before.

Eight years ago, it was Isaac running against then-Councilman Scott Crosbie and Gray, who was a political newcomer.

Gray had been considered a front-runner early in that race, but he finished third in the primary. Gray endorsed Isaac in the fall. This time, Crosbie is supporting Gray.

Four years ago, when Isaac was seeking a second term, she was challenged by then-Councilman Bill Farmer and Newberry, who was running his first campaign.

Isaac came out of the primary 600 votes ahead of Newberry; he beat her by nearly 20,000 in the general election. On the same day, voters decided overwhelmingly to end efforts to acquire Kentucky American.

Gray also was on the ballot four years ago for an at-large council seat. He was the top vote-getter and became vice mayor.

Between the 2002 unsuccessful mayoral race and the 2005 campaign that landed him in the vice mayor's seat, Gray acknowledged that he is gay. Although his sexual orientation had been whispered about before, he said it doesn't come up now.

Horine also has been on the campaign trail before: He ran for mayor in 1993.

Newberry said last weekend that the job of running the city and preparing a tight budget has kept him from campaigning as much as he would like.

Gray said that because of the joint duties of serving as vice mayor and campaigning, he is increasingly turning over the running of the family business to others.

Isaac, who is considered a master of "retail politics," appears to be spending the most time meeting people and shaking hands.

She also is the most active on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, regularly reporting on her comings and goings and sending out birthday and graduation wishes or "liking" someone's status.

She also might be the most optimistic: Despite her sound defeat four years ago, she told a Facebook follower recently that her campaign won't have T-shirts until the Fourth of July parade and said she's confident she will still have a campaign then.