Fund-raising letter for Newberry casts Gray as anti-coal

Mayor Jim Newberry is a friend of coal. Vice Mayor Jim Gray is "associated" with people who aren't.

That's the pitch being used to raise money for Newberry's re-election campaign against challenger Gray in a fund-raiser hosted by coal executive Joe Craft, oilman Bill Daughtery, coal consultant Bill Bishop and others.

The Newberry campaign declined to back up that claim, however.

The Gray campaign called it "a smear."

A letter on Newberry campaign stationery inviting potential donors to the Sept. 13 fund-raiser says the mayor "understands that Lexington is a regional center for coal and energy companies from Eastern Kentucky."

Gray, the letter says, "has been associated with individuals that have opposed the efforts of the coal and energy industry." It does not name those individuals.

Lance Blanford, Newberry's campaign manager, said the letter refers to members of the Brown family of Louisville, which is connected to Brown-Forman, which produces liquor and wine.

Late Wednesday, Blanford produced a list of campaign contributions to Gray from people he identified as Brown family members. The contributions, which date from 2001 to 2009, total more than $17,000.

Blanford said the family is well-known for anti-coal activities. He added that he could produce information to substantiate that claim. After more than an hour, Blanford replied that "the letter speaks for itself."

Jamie Emmons, Gray's campaign manager, said the Newberry campaign's assertion is "a smear and just a complete fabrication."

"It's dishonest, and Newberry knows it," Emmons said. "Jim Gray has never been against coal."

The fund-raiser will be held at the Lakewood Drive home of John and Carolyn Rasnick.

The invitation letter is signed by Rasnick, a founder of Summit Engineering, and nine other people.

While most of the signers are associated with energy in one way or another, Rasnick said that the "more common" tie is "we're from Eastern Kentucky and have ties here in Lexington."

He said the idea for the fund-raiser came up in a conversation he had with Newberry.

"I think he's interested in doing a fund-raiser from folks who are from that part of the state but that may have homes here or live here or have second homes here."

The letter says that Newberry led a Commerce Lexington group on a tour of Eastern Kentucky last year.

Commerce Lexington changed its official policy statement to be much more pro-coal after that two-day trip.

It is not clear what impact the mayor of Lexington could have on the coal industry.

Both Newberry and Gray have touted environmental ideas.

In the wake of a 2008 report that tagged Lexington as having the largest per-capita carbon footprint of any city in the nation, the Newberry administration produced a list of ways the city is becoming more energy efficient, many of them through using less coal.

Incandescent bulbs at every traffic light in town, for example, have been replaced by LED lights.