Allow me to go all Hegelian on our city leaders: Sometimes it is easiest to define what something is by what it is not.
And Jim Gray is not Jim Newberry.
Jim Gray is not a backroom dealer. Jim Gray believes the people’s business should be conducted in the open and—get this—with their involvement! Jim Gray is not a fool. He understands that a thriving community is built intelligently, not on the backs of multimillion dollar vanity projects.
Jim Gray is not, yet, the mayor. What, then, is Jim Gray?
Jim Gray is a “Model Citizen.” Lexington’s vice mayor for the past two years, Jim Gray is the CEO of an internationally renowned engineering firm, one of the “Top 20 Places to Work” in Kentucky. He is a member of the Board of Trustees at Berea College and at the KET Fund for Excellence —two jewels of the greater Bluegrass.
And while we might fault him his Vanderbilt education, Jim Gray is also a Harvard-recognized expert in Urban Planning. Witness the Toyota factory in Georgetown—Gray was one of the primary contractors building it, infusing our community with good jobs and talented young people in the wake of IBM’s exit.
Or look downtown. Just up the street from that yawning hole in the ground sits the headquarters of Gray Construction—the former Wolf Wile building, brilliantly andbeautifully re-possessed as a piece of modern architecture
subtly nestled amongst our Main Street storefronts, making a solid statement of architectural vision.
With a clear track record as an auditor of executive power, and a demonstrated interest in protecting and promoting Kentucky’s history (he raised $22 million for the state’s History Center in Frankfort), Gray is also a fervent funder of the local arts and an annual supporter of our most important community organizations.
For all that good work, it is his past year of service to this community that has truly catapulted him into a new realm of Lexington lore. It is this work that has separated him from a crowd of wealthy businessmen who simply do good work in order to accrue political power. Jim Newberry, he is not.
On March 4th, 2008, Lexington’s Mayor Jim Newebberry stood smilingly with local developer Dudley Webb (creator of various 1980s publicly- financed real estate boondoggles), and announced the CentrePointe development. For two years, Newberry and the Webbs had plotted the project without public debate.
Inasmuch as an abdication of leadership can be commended, it is unlikely the CentrePointe project could have withstood two years of community outcry at the level it received over just five months before the literal heart of the
Bluegrass was blown up. But we do with what we got, and from the moment Jim Newberry announced this monstrosity, a handful of our city leaders have stood up for the future of Lexington. Councilmember Don Blevins has been a bulldog on the mayor’s behind, renouncing the project as “a vertical Lexington Mall.”
And 1st District councilmember Andrea James has consistently sifted through the mayor’s BS for just an ounce of truth. But it is Vice Mayor Jim Gray who has truly shined in this civic debacle.
While the city’s mayor was writing emails to his citizens telling them to, and I quote, “stay out of the debate,” Jim Gray was doing anything but.
Our Vice Mayor, an expert in urban design and development, attacked the CentrePointe project for defying “all models of responsible urban planning.”
He called this fantastical hotel/condo Titanic “a massive fortress against our citizens.” Over and over, Jim Gray attacked the mayor for pissing away the city’s $500,000 master plan (yes folks, that’s half a million taxpayer dollars our mayor wasted like a keg on Rose Street at an underage party).
“If past performance is an indicator for future performance,” Vice Mayor and Model Citizen Jim Gray asked our mayor, “what is the likelihood of this project’s success?”
“Shouldn’t we study our history and review what went wrong with downtown
development in the 1980s and what role was played by these developers then?”
The block Jim Gray fought to save was, ultimately, demolished on his birthday.
At this writing, it remains a pile of rubble.
Despite the Vice Mayor’s repeated requests, there remains no proof the Webbs and their Mayor have the money to actually build this $250 million empty fortress.
It is not just CentrePointe that has brought out the best in Jim Gray’s leadership. For years he has been pushing a clear vision of downtown Lexington as a 21st century industrial mecca, establishing citizen task forces all along the way to keep the
And now there is the airport. A public wing of the city’s government, the Herald Leader recently revealed that Bluegrass Airport’s director had blown through $200,000 traipsing around the world and sleeping in fancy hotels.
Mayor Jim Newberry’s response? A shrug of the shoulders and a call for patience and understanding.
Vice Mayor Jim Gray’s response? An immediate call for action, rallying the city council for a vote to request an official audit from the State. (Other council members opposed the audit, dismissively citing its roots in a ‘newspaper article,’ and others urged that the vote be postponed.)
Time after time, as the mayor has let money and opportunity slip through his fingers, Jim Gray has been there to do the mayor’s job for him.
In the end, though, having the dumb luck of not being born Jim Newberry is hardly the only determining criteria of who may be knighted one of Lexington’s “Model Citizens.”
But not being Jim Newberry doesn’t hurt, and using your position of power to truly represent the interests of the people and the community that elected you—well, that doesn’t just make him an ideal candidate for “Model Citizen,” either.
It makes Jim Gray the next Mayor of Lexington. ■
David Schankula, a 2006 Model Citizen, is a founder of the Lexicon Project and a child of the city’s 3rd District.