Election showed Lexington voters the best and worst of politics

November 8, 2014

grayMayor Jim Gray gave his acceptance speech on election night Tuesday. Gray and his opponent, Anthany Beatty, ran gentlemanly races and campaigned on real issues. Photo by Pablo Alcala

 

Voters in Lexington have seen the best and worst of American politics over the past few months.

The worst was the U.S. Senate race between 30-year incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Their campaign was one TV attack ad after another, funded by huge sums of special-interest money. McConnell and Grimes were both zinged by fact-checkers for lies and half-truths.

The main narrative of this campaign was the phony “war on coal” — the myth that Eastern Kentucky coal-mining jobs, which have been disappearing for three decades because of mechanization and market forces, will be saved if only the industry is allowed to inflict more pollution and environmental damage on this state.

The candidates agreed to only one debate, and even then rarely strayed from their talking points. Grimes wouldn’t admit she voted for President Barack Obama, her party’s nominee, and McConnell wouldn’t acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change. It was an absurd spectacle.

The race for Lexington mayor was a much different story. Mayor Jim Gray and his challenger, former Police Chief Anthany Beatty, behaved like gentlemen and, more importantly, campaigned on real issues grounded in fact.

They also appeared together in so many debates and public forums that voters had plenty of opportunities to assess them and their positions.

For the most part, Urban County Council candidates also ran issues-oriented campaigns and behaved responsibly.

Why the contrast between local and national politics? The biggest factor, I think, is that races in Lexington’s merged city-council government are non-partisan. That prevents every person and idea from having to be labeled and put at odds.

Since the 1980s, America’s two-party system has become increasingly nasty and counterproductive. We have devolved into a culture of winner-take-all politics where big money, ideology and partisan gamesmanship often trump common sense and the common good.

Of course, Lexington government isn’t completely free of those influences. But the more voters and elected leaders can keep them at bay, the more progress this city will continue to make.

I think Gray was re-elected by a wide margin because most voters could not fault his performance. His administration has combined progressive leadership with good management and fiscal responsibility. And the mayor is the first one to admit that having a good re-election challenger kept him on his toes.

But the race also showed that Beatty is someone who would bring a lot of skill, experience and wisdom to public service should he seek elected office again.

Lexington lost a lot with the retirement of Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, a talented legislator who has a gift for bringing people to consensus. Fortunately, Gorton will be succeeded by someone with similar skills. Steve Kay, the new vice mayor and only returning at-large council member, is a professional facilitator with a reputation for integrity and fairness. Like Gray, he also is not afraid to tackle tough issues others have avoided.

As for the other council members who won races Tuesday, there are no obvious weak links. Kevin Stinnett moved up from a district to an at-large post, while Richard Moloney and Fred Brown returned to council after previous service.

Jake Gibbs is new to public office, but his background and demeanor could make him a model for a constituent-focused district council member. Another newcomer, Susan Lamb, was formerly the council’s clerk. She brings to her new job valuable knowledge of how city government really works.

I hated to see Harry Clarke lose re-election, because the retired University of Kentucky music professor did a great job in his one term. But Amanda Mays Bledsoe has a background in government policy that could make her an able successor.

The same is true for state lawyer Angela Evans, who was elected to the district seat Stinnett left. Jennifer Mossotti, Shevawn Akers and Jennifer Scutchfield are good district council members who deserved re-election.

Urban County Council members come from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, party affiliations and political beliefs. But because Lexington’s government is non-partisan, citizens hold them to a higher standard. People expect them to work together, reach consensus and move the city forward.

As in the past, Lexington’s mayor and council members have the opportunity to show politicians in Frankfort and Washington how to rise above petty politics and get things done for the greater good.


Lexington voters’ moods as gloomy as weather

May 18, 2010

Lexington voters’ moods seemed as gloomy as the weather Tuesday, at least what few of them came out to the polls.

I spent much of the day driving around town, talking with voters about the candidates and issues that interested them.

The most excitement I detected was among supporters of incumbent Jim Newberry and Vice Mayor Jim Gray in the mayor’s race, and among Republicans voting for Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate race.

Paul was embraced by the conservative Tea Party movement, while his opponent, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, was the GOP establishment’s choice. The race was being watched nationally as a barometer of Tea Party power.

Many Paul supporters said they were ambivalent about the Tea Party, but said he struck them as a departure from politics as usual — and they were plenty tired of that.

“Rand Paul brought me out,” said Connie Cooper, who lives off Pasadena Drive. “He’s different. I like his issues.”

“I don’t like the way the Republican Party has been going,” said Micah Fielden, 20, a pre-medical student at the University of Kentucky who said he voted for Paul.

Nelva Fitzgerald, who lives in Palomar subdivision, also was unhappy with the Republican Party — so she changed her registration Tuesday to Democrat. What sent her over the edge, she said, was Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices who voted to allow more corporate influence in politics, which she thinks is bad for the country.

Raleigh Deaton is a registered Democrat, but would have voted for Paul if he could have. He likes Paul’s fiscal conservatism.

“I’m tired of this doggone government giving money away like it’s growing on trees,” the utility engineer said. “That’s the worst thing we could be doing.”

As the results reflected, most people I talked to supported either Newberry, who finished first, or Gray, who finished second, in the mayor’s race. They will face each other in November.

A couple liked former Mayor Teresa Isaac, who finished third, but most people’s feelings were summed up by Fielden, who said he voted for Gray: “I think she had her shot and it’s time to move on.”

James Potter, an electrician who lives in Twin Oaks subdivision, said he came out to vote for Newberry. “With the World (Equestrian) Games and such, everything seems to be going pretty good,” he said.

Carrie Kennedy of Palomar agreed. “I think (Newberry) has done a good job,” she said.

But Gregory King, who lives in the Kenwick neighborhood east of downtown, disagreed. “I haven’t been much impressed with Mayor Newberry,” he said. “Jim (Gray) seems to have more creative ideas for Lexington.”

Josh Radner, a science teacher at Yates Elementary School, thought so, too. “He’s the more creative thinker,” he said of Gray. “He’s in touch with a wider group of constituents, including some who may not be the most powerful people.”

Allen and Zell Richards, a retired postal worker and teacher who live off Man ‘O War Boulevard in south Lexington, are Republicans and Paul supporters.

But the Richards split on the mayor’s race. He voted for Gray, because he didn’t like Newberry’s support of CentrePointe. She voted for Newberry, but agreed with her husband on that failed development.

“They jumped into that before they knew much about it,” she said. “I thought they should have renovated some of those old buildings. We have a beautiful city and we ought to keep older things around.”

“Yea,” her husband agreed. “Like us.”