All four city employee unions endorse Gray in Lexington mayor's race

Jim Gray talked with members of Knitters for Gray outside the Sidebar Grill early this month. The vice mayor has taken a leave of absence from his job as CEO of Gray Construction to campaign for mayor.
Jim Gray talked with members of Knitters for Gray outside the Sidebar Grill early this month. The vice mayor has taken a leave of absence from his job as CEO of Gray Construction to campaign for mayor.

All four unions representing city employees have endorsed Vice Mayor Jim Gray in the upcoming mayor's election.

The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 526 and Gray's campaign announced the group's support for Gray on Monday.

The city's two Fraternal Order of Police lodges, which represent police and corrections officers, and the Civil Service Employees Association already had endorsed Gray.

"This is very encouraging," Gray said in a telephone interview. "The way I look at this is the way I look at this in our business. Any good business and any good manager needs the support of their employees, and that's what leadership is all about."

Newberry's campaign manager, Lance Blanford, said in an e-mail that Newberry had "worked hard with police and firefighters."

"As we visit with citizens around the community, the sense is Lexington is moving forward under Mayor Newberry's steady leadership," Blanford said.

Each of the organizations cited issues such as communication, transparency and accessibility in making the endorsements.

"The entire employee population is unhappy with his lack of communication," Chris Bartley, president of the firefighters union, said of Newberry.

Bartley said the firefighters were unhappy with several decisions Newberry had made regarding the department, including threatening layoffs and taking the cost-cutting measure of temporarily closing some fire stations last winter. They also were disappointed that Newberry at first rejected a FEMA request to make a team of Lexington firefighters available to go to Haiti on a rescue mission after the devastating earthquake there. Newberry later placed nine firefighters on standby to go if needed.

"It seems like we've been pretty much under attack the past three years," Bartley said.

Mike Sweeney, president of FOP Bluegrass Lodge No. 4, said Newberry told the group four years ago that he would hire more police officers until the force was up to 700 and that he was in favor of a dedicated public safety tax, but neither of those things has happened. The police also were irked when Newberry did not initially sign their collective-bargaining contract in 2008, saying he needed the Urban County Council's approval first.

Blanford said that Newberry always supported the terms of the contract and that he "remains committed to hiring more police officers in his next term." He said the current economic climate makes a public safety tax unwise.

"Unlike many cities across the country, Mayor Newberry did not have to lay off any police officers or firefighters due to the major belt tightening he initiated at City Hall, including cutting the mayor's office budget by 32 percent," Blanford said. "Mayor Newberry has had to do more with less and has made sure local government lives within its means. By implementing cost cutting measures Mayor Newberry is saving taxpayers $15 million annually."

Bartley said the firefighters understand the difficulties of the recession, but communication would have helped.

"We feel the way Mayor Newberry kept us in the dark about the issue showed a lack of respect and regard for the safety of our citizens," he said in a statement. "Jim Gray's open-door policy will be a refreshing change."

In 2006, the firefighters union endorsed Mayor Teresa Isaac, and the FOP endorsed Newberry.

Sweeney said Gray has made a commitment to hire more police officers, be more accessible to the FOP and to include the group in more Urban County Government committees.

"Who knows, we may have the same thing with Jim Gray," Sweeney said. "We're taking Vice Mayor Gray at his word the same way we took Mayor Newberry at his word."