“As mayors, we’re on the front lines. We see these issues through a lens that is often very personal,” said Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional district.
Hands-on mayoral experience at the ground-level is how Gray distinguishes himself as a Congressional candidate. With a democratic primary now five candidates deep—it was six until Theodore Green recently dropped out—Gray is compelled to iterate his competitiveness and credibility to voters. Surely, voters can see that nearly eight years as Lexington’s mayor has been no easy feat.
Not long ago was Gray speaking to a man who had buried five friends in one year due to opioid overdoses. “I was at a funeral just last week,” said Gray.
Jim Gray has diligently and preemptively addressed the opioid crisis throughout his tenure as mayor, beginning in 2013 when he and his staff saw it coming. This was many years before 2017’s mass death toll with 60,000 opioid deaths across the country – more than the number of casualties in the Vietnam war.
Gray and U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey acted quickly to form a heroin task force, which pioneered the first-response administration of naloxone as well as a safe and sterile needle exchange to mitigate the public health crises.
“It’s a wildfire sweeping across America,” he said with urgency. “It’s hollowing out communities and families…and today we’re doing our best to deal with it on the front lines at the local level. It needs to be led at the federal level in a much more aggressive, intentional, deliberate way.”
“It’s a strong field that really represents the Democratic party. A field that democrats can be proud of,” said Gray in response to the diversity of candidates in the primary and the uniqueness of the race.
“Reggie and I have been fighting for progressive causes for years,” said Gray of candidate and state Senator Reggie Thomas. His other most-discussed opponent, Lt. Colonel Amy McGrath, “is new to all of this” he said, and new to the district.
But all things considered, Gray believes primaries can build muscle, “and that can be a very good thing.”
2018 has been talked up to be a “blue-wave” election, where seats will flip Democratic in the general election. But even in normal year, Kentucky’s CD-6 “swings” from party to party.
In 2004, after former Republican governor Ernie Fletcher vacated the seat, Ben Chandler won it back for Democrats against Senator Alice Forgy Kerr in a special election. The district swung back red in 2014, two years after the 2012 reelection of president Barack Obama.
But Gray believes that for him personally, his voter support in the district was apparent before the term “blue wave” became popular.
Last presidential election in 2016, Jim Gray ran against Congressional Senator Rand Paul. Although the race didn’t go completely in his favor, Gray still won the 6th district by four points over Paul. He says this shows his strength in the district then and now, with the May 22nd primary just ahead.
The 6thdistrict may have the cities of Lexington, Paris, and Richmond—but it also has a lot of rural ground in Fleming and Wolfe counties. Raised in Glasgow, Gray knows what it’s like to grow up in a small town and the economic struggles those towns have been having.
“My business career was recruiting jobs throughout the state and especially here in the 6th district…that was when we moved our family business (Gray Construction) to Lexington. More than 160 projects, 20,000 jobs.”
Gray was also part of the recruiting team for Toyota and many of the Japanese plants that followed. “I understand that jobs give purpose and meaning in life. And for us to create real and meaningful opportunities, we start with economic opportunities. And that’s especially true in the small communities in the 6thdistrict.”