Candidates in Lexington’s jam-packed race for mayor took questions on the drug problem, charter schools, economic development, and rising pension costs Monday night, though equal time constraints made for an evening of mostly broad policy prescriptions.
All seven mayoral hopefuls – including one deaf candidate, William Weyman, who spoke through a sign language interpreter – inhabited a cramped stage at the Lexington Public Library's Farish Theater. Despite the brief answer periods, the participants did tackle a handful of major issues confronting the city, among them the ongoing opioid addiction crisis.
Former Vice Mayor Linda Gorton advocated a "multi-disciplinary approach" and a system automatically steering addicts toward treatment.
"We need rehab to start while people are in prison or jail," she recommended. "And when they go to the emergency room, they should be referred straight to rehab rather than turned right out onto the street again."
Former Police Chief Ronnie Bastin pledged to revive a regional drug task force targeting drug dealers and proposed a new office dedicated solely to the tackling the addiction scourge.
"I'll appoint a director of drug enforcement and prevention, someone whose job 24 hours a day is to live, eat, and breath... all we can do as a community, not only as a government," the former Public Safety Commissioner told the audience of around 100.
Nearly every candidate unearthed common ground on one issue: charter schools.
State legislation passed in 2017 allows the mayors of Lexington and Louisville to authorize the alternative schools, but no one on stage showed any enthusiasm for the move. Three-time mayoral candidate Skip Horine was alone in leaving the door open to the idea if it earned community support.
"If the public wants charter schools at some location or some part of the city, then that's something I would certainly consider," he replied.
Legislation creating a funding mechanism for charter schools will lapse in June and the General Assembly did not revive it before the close of this year’s 60-day budget session.
Joe Anthony was in the audience. Asked about his priorities going into the primary, he placed the addiction epidemic near the top of his list.
"I'm glad they all took the drug question very seriously," he told WUKY. "Some of the minor candidates were a little ridiculous. That's okay. They added variety, I guess."
Former Mayor Teresa Isaac, at-large councilman Kevin Stinnett, and small business owner Ike Lawrence were also part of the panel.
On May 22, voters will whittle the field down to just two general election candidates.