Tuesday was a big day. It started at the Lexington convention center in a half-full ballroom — which isn’t entirely true because all of the dining tables were full and most of the arranged chairs, just that there was an entire half of the room that was filled only with carpet. Judging by the incessant scraping of silver against faux china, lunch was good.
And so was the Mayor’s speech. His State of the Merged Government address was straightforward, no big frills and no great surprises, but clear and to the point.
The festivities (such as they were) got under way with the Lexington Forum giving its Spirit Award to Alan Stein. The Moustachioed one got a great applause and right off the bat acknowledged his wife, who was sitting at a table with Dorsey Ridley, our (for now) imposed State Senator. “Lexington is so great,” Alan quipped, “it takes two Senators to represent us.”
The crowd was in Kathy’s corner at that moment but when Alan urged everyone in the room to stand up to the disenfranchisement of Lexington, the clapping grew a bit quieter and there were certainly some suits (everyone eating lunch was in suits) who busied themselves with their buttered rolls.
After that it was Mayor Gray, met by a standing ovation. He, too, urged support for, as he put it, “OUR senator, Kathy Stein.” That was as pointed as the Mayor has been on the subject, and much later he welcomed Ridley and said we needed his help. Which is true, but Ridley — who is anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, and pro-coal – might need our help. But that’s a different story.
Gray moved on to Eli Capilouto, president of UK, thanking him for laying out the school’s true mission. As best I can gather, Capilouto’s mission for the school is continuing to raise tuition, give lip service to staff and faculty salaries, and bilk students for even more by privatizing housing. Which again, is another story. But the Lexington Forum applauded.
Gray and Fischer and Beshear went to the Detroit Auto Show. Kentucky’s in a good position because the whole show was about environmentally friendly and hybrid automobiles. We certainly have our share of the auto-industry, so hopefully that’s all true. More applause!
Then it was on to the meat of the speech. The Mayor started out with a quiet slap at the previous administration over health care costs, and then gave the city employees a lot of credit (which may well not be enough for them) for the hit and sacrifices they have made, saying they must be at the front lines of our thanks when the economy recovers. (And I guess if it doesn’t recover, we’ll all be so screwed nothing will matter.)
The Mayor talked about negotiations with the firefighters and corrections workers (the HL has more on the latter here), and said they were still working with the police.
The police and fire pension systems are paid by Lexington taxpayers but the rules are determined by the State Legislature. Gray pleaded with them in the speech to give the power back to the city. The Herald, again, has more:
The police and fire pension system, with its mounting unfunded liability, poses a looming financial problem for the city, Mayor Jim Gray said Tuesday, and he asked Lexington’s legislative delegation to “please step up and help fix our system.”
Lexington is the only city in Kentucky that has its own pension system for police and fire, although the legislature sets the rules that the pension system must follow. All other fire and police departments are covered by the state’s pension fund.
Lexington’s fund was set up during the 1970s when legislation was approved to create the Lexington-Fayette County’s merged government, the first in the state. “Lexington taxpayers have to pay for it,” Gray said of the pensions.
The first depicts a new inside for Rupp, with more seats (800 to 1000) and a lot of video boards (the giant one at the top, the purple strips) and the second… who knows. It’s a concourse of the future.
Again, the Herald has more but the Mayor’s point here was that in the possibility of activating the 46 acres of the Rupp district, Lexington can use extraordinary design to create economic growth.
Gray gave an overview of the Rupp process, largely an abreviated rehash of what we’ve already covered here based on the previous public meetings: Free Rupp by turning it transluscent and making it inviting from the outside, stripping away the convention and retail boxing it in, promoting retail and arts around it and — as the Fayette school board just approved exploration of — bringing a public arts school into the heart of downtown.
Gray wrapped up by calling back to Henry Clay who envisioned Lexington as a great city and worked to create it as such, and then told us, “This is our moment, this is our time.”
And then he was done. A standing ovation.
Overall, it was a strong performance as far as Mayoral “State of the Merged Government” addresses go. There were no surprises for anyone who’s followed the city’s machinations over the past year, but Gray delivered it all — as he usually does in these settings — swiftly, without flourish and mostly to the point. He isn’t an orator, but he isn’t Mitch Daniels either, he’s not just reading a pseudo-academic text. Mayor Gray had his points, hit them and within them, one can see the big challenges of heading up a government drowning in debt. He’s more engaging than Newberry (an understatement) and, frankly, comes across as more in charge of the complexities than any one else on the city scene (no offense, Don). Who will challenge him in 2014? To be victorious, that person’s gonna have to go crazy, play to the basest of bases, or Rupp will fail and the statewide UK base that doesn’t understand the cost is likely borne by the city will call all their cousins and the vote will disintegrate.
Right now, it seems like Gray is, all things considered and any number of huge obstacles to overcome, in control.
The best part of the whole morning, though, came afterward in Victorian Square. The stores that were open were empty, the storefronts that are empty were still for lease and the building which is for sale for $12.5 Million was rocking — its empty hallways echoing a tinny song from the 1980s speaker system:
Badfinger’s “Come and Get It,” written by Paul McCartney for the totally amazing must-watch film, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, The Magic Christian.
Regardless of who you are or what you think about Rupp Arena, Victorian Square, the state of America or the state of our Merged Government, it was a pretty beautiful moment.
If you want it, here it is come and get it,
Mmmm, make your mind up fast
If you want it, anytime I can give it
But you better hurry cause it may not last
Did I hear you say that there must be a catch
Will you walk away from a fool and his money?