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Election Return: Lexington, Ky. Has New Gay Mayor

By L.K. Regan

In many ways, Tuesday's midterm election was grim for traditional allies of gay rights: Democrats sustained heavy losses, forfeiting control of the House of Representatives, though they are likely to retain a bare majority in the Senate. DADT repeal is therefore imperiled, as are gay rights more generally, and in Iowa, three state Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of gay marriage were voted out of their seats. But here's a bright note out of the election: Lexington, Ky. has its first gay mayor.

Jim Gray is a gay politician in Lexington, Kentucky; since 2006 he has served in that city as vice mayor. In that position he had numerous clashes with (now former) Lexington mayor Jim Newberry. Late last year, Gray announced that he would challenge Newberry, who was seeking a second mayoral term, in the general election.

The campaign between the former political allies was contentious—this summer, Newberry accused Gray of "a sense of entitlement;" Gray, in turn, questioned Newberry's judgment. "I'm not running because Jim Newberry is a bad person at all," Gray has said. "I'm running because Jim has made some bad decisions."

Most of the struggle between these Jims centered on a failed development project in downtown Lexington that became a symbol of the city's inability to take care of business. Gray, President and CEO of Gray Construction Company, took up the unfinished CentrePointe complex as the cause most closely associated with his candidacy. His sexuality, on the other hand, was little mentioned in the campaign.

What a difference a near-decade makes. In 2002, Gray lost a bid for the mayor's seat due in part, he believed, to a whisper campaign about his sexuality. In 2005, he publicly announced that he is gay—and in his 2006 run for the Urban County Council, the subject never came up. The top finisher in that race becomes vice mayor, and Gray won that contest. Now, in 2010, his campaign against Newberry was entirely issue-based—while Gray's sexuality was sometimes mentioned in press coverage, it appears to have been a non-issue in the campaign.

In and of itself, a mayorship of Lexington, Ky. won't change the landscape of gay rights, and it remains to be seen whether Gray will even be any good at his new job. But in its larger message—that being out in politics is not only possible, it's preferable, the Lexington mayor's race is a significant moment of democracy in action.