David Reynolds: Harvey, Alexander, Cox & Lera

Column by David Reynolds

If you don’t live in or care anything about the City of Lexington, may I suggest you skip this week’s column and go straight to Section B to read about your friends and neighbors in the city police blotters or the county sheriff’s log. Why postpone pleasure?

On the other hand, if you seriously care about who should govern Lexington’s 2.5 square miles of paradise, this week’s column may be of interest. On Tuesday the registered voters of this fair city will select a new mayor and three city-council members.

Of course, you already know our leanings. A glance at the heading provides a clue. And a second look will reveal that none of the four are incumbents. There is nothing like a change, as the Democratic Party standardbearer keeps repeating. However, to announce new choices without some good old reasoning is not acceptable. We will try to make our selections acceptable.

* * *

Let’s start by discussing the two candidates who wish to succeed retiring mayor John Knapp: Mimi Elrod and Mary Harvey. The two women are very different. Too often voters complain that there is little difference between candidates. Not here. There is contrast in background, temperament, style, where they live and why they are running.

Mimi is a circumspect academic who carefully measures her words, can see both sides of an issue, but usually comes down hard on one. She tends to answer short questions with long answers. Her demeanor is calm, cool and collective. She is an active Democrat. She sees Lexington from an entirely different vantage point than her opponent. And her life story is much different.

Mary, on the other hand, feels and expresses passion, no matter the subject. If it is about Lexington, she raises it a notch. She gets to her point quickly and listens well. Like Mimi, Mary can see both sides of an issue. But Mary has demonstrated that she is more willing to compromise her position – but not her principles. Her desire is to make Lexington’s two societies into one town. But Mary has her rough edges as seen by those who prefer Mimi’s cooler style.

In voting for Lexington’s next mayor, please try to match the job with the person. The city has a “weak mayor” form of government, with an appointed city manager (Jon Ellestad). The mayor does not have a vote, unless the city council has a tie.

This leaves the next mayor with two choices. One is to be the ceremonial head of the city, that is, conduct meetings fairly and speak well in public. Consensus building is not viewed as part of the job description. This role stresses the limitations of the job – not its potential. The long battle over the new courthouse demonstrated that.

However, there is another role the mayor can play. Leadership is never easy. It requires good listening skills and the ability to build a consensus within a diverse town. It means putting the interests of an entire city and its taxpayers ahead of the parochial interests of W&L and VMI. And for 2009-2012, it may mean replacing a retiring city manager and other top officials.

If you are satisfied with the first role, you should vote for Mimi Elrod. However, if you desire more out of City Hall, Mary Harvey is your candidate. With her as mayor there is a better chance of Lexington tapping into its potential. Some say Mary is a gamble. That is also being said of Sen. Obama as President Obama. At the local level I am willing to take that gamble. And why is Mary running? In 17 words: To give the citizens of Lexington a choice – if they wish to have leadership for a change.

A final point on the mayor’s race. If Mimi wins, she loses her vote on the city council. That’s not true with Mary. If she loses, she loses. Still, Harvey will have no regrets. People with a passion to serve only wish for an opportunity to serve.

* * *

Now to three good people who should have a vote on city council. First (in alphabetical order) is Marylin Alexander. Marylin, another community leader, complements Mary. For far too long their end of town, Green and Diamond Hills, have been inadequately represented on council. Taxes, jobs and sidewalks are as important as the design of trash containers. Alexander knows all the issues — from both sides. She will be a refreshing addition to Lexington’s city council.

Next is David Cox, my fellow columnist and former rector. David has spent a lifetime listening. The Rev. Cox is very familiar with life’s big picture and how that picture can not be forgotten if life is to go forward. Cox sees Lexington’s potential.

Finally is Bob Lera. If the voters of Lexington fail to harness Bob’s talents the city will be the loser. But not Bob. He will continue to do his thing — keep adding to his long record of community involvement. There are other “Bob Lera’s” living here. When they thought about retirement they did not think about going fishing or playing golf. They thought about involvement and service. Consider for a moment what this place would be if the Bob Lera brand of retirement was not so locally contagious. Paradise would be a little less so.

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