This Friday night, October 15, the UK basketball season begins and as we here in the Big Blue Nation prepare for this madness, it is important to remember that basketball is not the only game in town.
In just a few weeks – November 2nd, otherwise known as the day after the Wildcats destroy Pikeville in the first exhibition game – we will all head to the polls to cast our votes for Senators, Congressmen, Judges, and Constables.
Here in Lexington, we’re voting to either re-elect the current mayor or to replace him with a new Mayor.
If you’ve not been following this Mayoral Madness (and who could blame you! You have children to raise, jobs to do, bigger concerns in your everyday life!), then consider the following as something of a primer as you prepare to step into that voting both… because for all their similarities and for all the mundanities of local governance, there is a stark choice to be made here and the two men are quite different.
Lexington’s current Mayor, Jim Newberry, is sort of like voting for former UK Coach Billy Clyde Gillispie.
Newberry took office at the beginning of 2007. Gillispie took the helm of our beloved Wildcats that same spring.
Coming into office, both Newberry and Gillispie had great reputations and they were surrounded with high hopes.
Gillispie was brought in to replace Tubby Smith. Newberry was brought in to replace Teresa Isaac.
Both Smith and Isaac had vocal supporters, but their detractors were far more numerous. Both Smith and Isaac were branded ineffective managers, bad at recruiting and retaining good talent, and all the conversation surrounding both of them rippled through with recrimination, anger and tiresome invective.
So in early 2007, Gillispie and Newberry rode into town with great fanfare to restore their respective programs – the Wildcats on the one hand, Lexington on the other – to their proper pedestals of greatness.
Gillispie was supposed to be a star recruiter. Newberry was supposed to be a strong and unifying executive. During their tenure, we saw glimmers of these promised talents… but we also saw their great weaknesses.
Gillispie was a bully. He belittled his players, he offended the fans and stubbornly refused to accept the role of public figure. Newberry shares Gillispie’s stubborn nature. In this upcoming election, Lexington’s city workers, Lexington’s police, and Lexington firefighters have all endorsed Newberry’s opponent – like Patrick Patterson and the rest of the UK team, they have loudly spoken up against their boss.
Newberry has also looked the other way on scandal after scandal – the scandal at the airport, the scandal of the CentrePointe block, the scandal at the Kentucky League of Cities (where Newberry was a member of the executive board) – in a manner that demonstrates a woeful lack of understanding about what it is to be the leader of this storied town.
On the other hand, you could compare John Calipari and Jim Gray, Lexington’s current Vice Mayor. Both Gray and Calipari are highly admired for their grand visions and great accomplishments. Calipari is a seasoned coach who has led two teams to the Final Four. Gray has led his family’s construction business for years, building it into a highly successful company with contracts across the country and around the globe.
Both Calipari and Gray have their detractors, too. There are worries about each of them. With Calipari, the worry is that while he can bring in great talent, he’ll never be able to build a championship team with “one and done” players. With Gray, people complain that he’s a dreamer, that he has big ideas but won’t be able to bring them to fruition. They say Gray doesn’t have proven experience, and they playfully deride Calipari for declaring this past NBA Draft Day to be “the most important day in UK basketball history.”
In essence, both comparisons result in a question of style and substance. The difference between Gillispie and Calipari is as stark as the one between Newberry and Gray. Looking at each man in turn, one can easily see how the future may be shaped, the type of leadership one can expect and the downsides one might have to deal with – and whether those downsides are worse than the current ones.
So, on November 2nd – Election Day – will Lexington step into the voting booth and cast their lot with Billy Clyde Newberry or will they pass the torch to Jim Grayipari?