LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Normally, Mayor Linda Gorton of Lexington would be at a city event of some kind at 11:00 a.m. on a Monday. Her after-hours schedule isn't usually this light either. But during a pandemic, she's had a lot more time to govern, without nearly as much time spent cutting ribbons or addressing crowds.
Gorton is into roughly her 200th day of leading the city through a pandemic, and none of it has been easy. The budget, she said, was one of the biggest hurdles.
"We worked with what we had," she said. And Gorton knew there'd be tough decisions to make, both from a financial and health perspective.
"As you know, we closed the pools. Now part of that was due to the pandemic, and we weren't able to operate in a safe way. So that was difficult because people here love our parks," she said.
The mayor also referred to the nearly forty city jobs that have been placed on a back burner.
"They had the money in the budget from the previous year in case we wanted to hire someone. Those aren't funded now. That saved us a few million dollars. Everything we do saves a few million here, and a few million there," Gorton added before indicating that the cuts made served their purpose. All of the city's vital resources (police, fire, trash collection) have remained up and running.
Gorton is a former nurse who allows science to guide her decisions while following many of the guidelines being set forth by a Governor who is not a member of her party.
"I really like non-partisan politics, because it allows you to get things done," Gorton said before citing a Lexington Fayette Urban County Government policy that adheres to bi-partisan politics.
And she gave the nod to her background has a healthcare provider.
"I understood how a virus could act. This virus is not political. It's a virus! Just like we're getting ready to go into flu season, who would say that's ever a political thing?" she asked rhetorically. "For me, it was about doing what we needed to do in a non-partisan way."
Gorton said several businesses have closed as a result of the pandemic, and more could follow. She noted that the Federal Government's CARES Act stimulus money from the spring helped some here, but not all. The city has worked with many restaurant owners to help keep business afloat.
"Creatively allow restaurants to expand capacity, not only onto sidewalks but into parking lots," she said. But that revenue stream could plummet once our temperatures begin to slide.
The mayor's office also feels the city's mobile testing initiative has been an enormous success. Mayor Gorton is quite proud of the more than 11,000 COVID-19 tests that have been administered over 46 testing days. And they have been strategically placed in neighborhoods whose residents either are at higher risk or have limited access to those tests.
"We are going into neighborhoods, so we're taking the testing close to where people live so that they can walk or drive to testing. We needed to do that to get to the people who were having disproportionate health issues," she said the of program.
Nothing is perfect in Lexington (or anywhere) these days, and some will agree with the mayor's policies in response to the virus, others will think they were (are) too aggressive. But she feels she's doing what's best for everyone, including those who didn't vote for her.
"That's our job, regardless of your party," she said. "And I think we're hanging in there pretty well."
Or as she also said, about as well as you can during a pandemic.