Although named in 1775 and settled in 1779, Lexington did not elect its first mayor until 1832, the year it was incorporated -- long after she began to decline in economic status among the western cities. It should be noted, however, that the first major was the son of the first millionaire west of the Alleghanies, John Wesley Hunt.
Charleton Hunt (mayor from 1832-1934) was an alumnus of Transylvania University, the college with the most mayoral alumni, (Twelve, compared to the University of Kentucky’s 10. In the interest of full disclosure, the authors are Transylvania graduates.). After graduating in June 1821, Hunt left for Frederick, Maryland, one of the eastern cities to which Lexington was inordinately attached (others being Philadelphia and Williamsburg, Va.). There he studied law under Roger Taney, who, as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, would write the infamous Dred Scott Decision. Hunt returned to Kentucky the following year, establishing his practice in Paris. In 1824 he married Rebecca T. Warfield of another dynastic Lexington family. After Lexington incorporated in 1832, Hunt was elected mayor, and reelected in 1833 and 1834 (mayors served one-year terms until well into the 20th century), shepherding the community through the cholera epidemic of 1833. Hunt returned to his law practice, only to die of scarlet fever on Dec. 27, 1836.
Lexington’s second cholera epidemic in 1849 claimed the city’s third mayor, J.G. McKinney (1837-1838), who died July 5 of that year. Another notable figure also died in the epidemic: Robert S. Todd, father of Mary who would marry Abraham Lincoln.
Lexington’s fifth mayor, Daniel Bradford (1841), was the son of the publisher of the Kentucky Gazette, John Bradford. Daniel succeeded his father as publisher of the city’s first major newspaper. He later published and edited the Lexington Public Advertiser.
James Logue (1842-1845) was Lexington’s only immigrant mayor, born in Letter Kenney, Ireland, in 1783. He emigrated to the United States at age 30 and settled in Lexington, where he operated a co-ed academy (rare in those times) and served as the city librarian before elected mayor.
The ninth mayor, George P. Jouett (1848-1849), was the first-born of the famous Kentucky portraitist Matthew H. Jouett. He studied medicine at Transylvania under Dr. Benjamin Dudley, one of the nation’s early medical pioneers. After practicing medicine for several years, Jouett entered the mercantile field, owning the Mississippi River boat Baltic, among others. Although elected to two terms, he resigned during the second to return to his business interests. When the War Between the States broke out, he enlisted in the Union army and was appointed colonel of the 15th Kentucky Volunteers. He was killed in the Battle of Perryville.
Thomas H. Pindell (1854), the city’s 12th mayor, was a major in the army during the War of 1812 (instigated by fellow townsman Henry Clay) and served as an aide to Governor Isaac Shelby in the Northwest campaign. He owned a ropewalk on North Limestone and was an officer of the Bank of Kentucky for 20 years.
Thomas B. Monroe, Jr. (1859), served as editor of the Kentucky Statesman, a pro-Southern newspaper. He served as secretary of state under Gov. Beriah Magoffin. When Kentucky declared its neutrality in 1860, Monroe joined the Confederate 4th Kentucky Infantry as a major and was killed near Burnesville in 1862.
D.W. Standeford (1866) won by two votes in what may have been the city’s closest mayoral election.
Lexington’s longest serving mayor was Jerry T. Frazier (1867, 1869-1880). The Baltimore, Md., native moved to Cynthiana as a child and later to Lexington to work as a merchant and tailor. Prior to his first election as mayor, Frazier served on the city council for several years. Turned out of office after his first term, he ran again a year later and would serve 12 consecutive terms.
Frazier’s sole defeat came at the hands of J.G. Chinn (1868), a veteran of the War of 1812. Chinn trained as a physician and received his degree in medicine from Transylvania University. Elected mayor at age 71, he outlived three wives, the last of which he married at age 80, she being 90. She died 12 years later and he followed two years after that.
One of the city’s most effective mayors was Claude M. Johnson (1880-1887), during whose tenure the waterworks were built in 1884. He voluntarily left office to serve as an Indian agent in the territory of Arizona, but returned to Lexington eight years later.
Although J. Hull Davidson (1892-1893) may be remembered as one of the organizers of the Chamber of Commerce or as an owner of the Phoenix Hotel, his mark on history is stained by charges of embezzlement. After serving as tax collector from 1888-1891, a shortage of $14,714 for those years was noted in the city treasury, an amount that later rose to $125,400. A suit to collect was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Henry T. Duncan (1894-1895, 1900-1903) is remembered for founding the Lexington Press in 1870. It merged with Desha Breckinridge’s Transcript to become the Lexington Herald.
The last mayor of the 19th century was J.B. Simrail (1896-1899), who served under Gen. John Hunt Morgan, with whom he was imprisoned in Columbus, Oh. Contemporaries, however, remember him for an infamous bar fight with the editor of the Herald over an editorial.
The first newly elected mayor of the 20th century was Thomas A. Combs, who served as our 27th mayor (1904-1907). The Breathitt Co., Ky., native was reared in Menifee County, and moved to Powell County as a adult to open a sawmill and general store. He moved his family to Lexington in 1895 where he, his brothers, and father founded the Combs Lumber Co., a legacy of which is still in operation, although not in lumber. Before being elected mayor, Combs served several years on city council. He resigned as mayor to successfully run for the Kentucky Senate, serving 1908-1912. In 1914, he was appointed a director of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, Oh., where he served for almost two decades.
This was an interesting time in Lexington politics. From the 1860s, Lexington had been run by someone other than the mayor. First, Dennis Mulligan, a councilman who took control of the local Democratic Party and ran the patronage program from his store at the corner of Vine and Limestone (on the other side of the tracks). He was succeeded by William F. "Billy" Klair, who leveraged his insurance contracts with the city to hold sway over appointments and employment. Klair, who also served as state representative and as Lexington's postmaster, rose to power in the late 1880s and pulled the strings well into the 1930s. He died in 1937. Henry T. Duncan's son, Henry, Jr., who led the reformist opposition, referred to Combs and Klair as "two mangy rats" and as "The Siamese Twins of Lexington politics."
Combs' successor, Dr. R.B. Waddy, was also not native of Fayette Co., but of Spotsylvania County, Va. (In all, 17 pre-merger mayors were from outside Fayette Co., sevens of those from outside Kentucky.) At age 18, Waddy quit school to work in railroad construction. At age 23, he began the study of medicine and earned his degree a year later. He moved his practice to Lexington in 1891, where he served as a member of the Board of Health and as president of the Board of Aldermen, before serving one year as mayor.
John Skain (1908-1911) was first elected to the City Council, where he served as president four years before he was elected mayor. (Until 1912, Lexington's government was made up of a mayor, eight aldermen elected at-large, and two councilmen from each of the city's six wards. In 1912, a city commission form of government was adopted.) Following his term as mayor, Skain managed the Phoenix Hotel for five years and was a commissioner of Eastern State Hospital for seven years.
Fleming Co. native J. Ernest Cassidy (1912-1916) operated a general store in rural Bourbon Co. before moving to Lexington where he opened a cigar factory. On Dec. 15, 1897, his brother accidentally shot off Cassidy's hand, and thereafter he wore a cosmetic hand. Cassidy served 12 years as city clerk before being elected mayor. While mayor, he built an apartment house on the northeast corner of Maxwell and Woodland, in which he operated a grocery store.
James C. Rogers (1916-1919) came up through the ranks of the Fayette County Sheriff's office, serving as sheriff 1886-1891, when he took a teller position at the old Central Bank, then served as clerk of the Circuit Court. While mayor, Rogers suffered from a long series of illnesses and died on Nov. 9, 1919.
Rogers' successor, Councilman William H. McCorkle, is noted as serving the shortest term as mayor -- just two months, giving both paychecks to his wife. He also served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and as superintendent of Public Works.
Thomas C. Bradley (1920-1924) earlier served as county assessor, sheriff, and superintendent of Public Safety. After elected mayor and while he was traveling out of town, his old family home on N. Upper between Short and Second was torn down for a parking lot (a longtime Lexington tradition). Somewhat annoyed, he instituted the first city-wide zoning regulations. The noted horse owner and steward at Churchill Downs helped organize the Citizen's Trust Bank, where he served as president until his death in 1946.
Hogan Yancy (1924-1928), a Louisville native, was a star football and baseball athlete at Transylvania College, which withdrew from the Collegiate Athletic Association over allegations that Yancy had played professional ball in South Carolina. Yancy later served as coach at Transylvania while earning his law degree. Prior to serving as mayor, he was city attorney and founded the Lexington Building & Loan Association.
James J. O'Brien (1928-1932) was a stalwart of the Klair machine, serving as a secretary to both Combs and Skain, as well as city clerk and city commissioner.
Two mayors, W.T. Congleton (1932-1934) and Reed Wilson (1936-1939) are better remembered for their business connections. Congleton founded the construction company that still bears his name. Wilson was president of Wilson Marchinery & Supply Co. (now Wilson Equipment Co.) and was vice president of Kinkead-Wilson Chrysler Co. (the sign for which still stands on New Circle Rd. for a spa sales room).
Between the two was Charles R. Thompson (1934-1935), a mule breeder, who was appointed mayor when Congleton resigned to return to his business, this being the Depression years. Wilson was succeeded by another businessman, T. Ward Havely (1940-1943), president of Central Rock Co., and largely responsible for funding the construction of Blue Grass Field, initially a World War II Army Air Corps training center.
With World War II, the age of bossism was mostly over, certainly in Lexington, if not Chicago. Scholarly reasons for the decline include expanding suburbs, a booming economy, and returning soldiers who, having overthrown dictators, did not succumb to the dictates of the old line political bosses.
Lexington's first two post-war mayors, R. Mack Oldham (1943-1948) and Thomas G. Mooney (1948-1952), were in the bank business. Oldham, who served in the Navy during World War II, was director of Central Bank and a city commissioner before serving as mayor. Mooney worked in the Kentucky State Banking Department after serving as Fayette County magistrate. He was also the community's rationing attorney during the war.
Fred Fugazzi, another Navy veteran, served two terms that represented two iconic periods in Lexington's history. His first term (1952-1956) concluded with the announcement that IBM would relocate its electric typewriter division to Lexington, building its plant on land donated by the state that had been the farm for Eastern State Hospital. His second term is credited with bringing Urban Renewal to Lexington (for good and bad) and for the removal of the railroad tracks through downtown Lexington (traced by the configuration of today's Vine Street.
Navy vet Shelby C. Kinkead (1956-1960) with a degree in engineering from the University of Kentucky worked as an engineer for the Chrysler Corp., then returned to Lexington to manage the parts department at Kinkead-Wilson. Appointed city commissioner in 1952 to fill an unexpired term, he was elected commissioner outright a year later, and two years after that, mayor. Under Kinkead, Lexington began a series of "annexations" of former county areas to broaden its tax base and bring improved city services to the growing subdivisions. In time, the boundaries were so convolution, the city and county police and fire departments often were confused as to who had jurisdiction where. After leaving office, he was elected state senator.
Richard J. Colbert (1960-1964) was one of the few Republicans to hold the office (a sign that "bossism" was truly over; see the March edition, Part 2). An Air Force veteran of World War II and Korea, Lexington's first M.B.A. mayor served two terms as commissioner before elected mayor. After leaving office, he moved to New Brunswick, N.J., his wife's hometown.
Charles Wylie (1968-1972) was the last mayor to serve a full term before the merger of the city and county governments in 1974. And even then, he served as mayor in name only for his final two years.
With the city commission government adopted in 1912, four commissioners were elected at large to serve two-year terms along with the mayor who served for four years. Although tickets had been a long tradition whereby a slate of candidates would run representing a platform, none had ever attempted to replace a constitutionally elected mayor.
Enter Thomas R. Underwood, Jr. A commissioner for several terms, Underwood seized on an unpopular sewer service charge to fund improving sewage treatment (Lexington water woes go back a bit), formed the "People's Ticket" (this being the zenith of Flower Power) with two other commissioners and essentially took over city hall. Calling himself the "mayor pro-tem," Underwood's "three-man majority" pushed Mayor Wylie and former U.K. basketball player Harry Sykes to the sidelines.
Next came one of the most controversial political periods in Lexington's history. To its credit, the majority pushed for what would become Rupp Arena. And it initiated the hotel "bed tax" that helped fund tourism development. But it drug its heels on consideration for a merged city-county government. The most controversial proposal, however, was to set at 65 the mandatory retirement age for police and fire and to reduce the Health Department and Public Library budgets. Both efforts eventually failed.
In the next election cycle, Underwood lost his bid to become mayor outright, coming in a distant third in the primary to eventual winner H. Foster Petit and Sykes. Petit had put together a four-man ticket with a platform that included merged government, which overwhelmingly prevailed in the general election, with the remnants of Underwood's bloc trailing by a wide margin.
Thanks to both unusually strong support in the General Assembly and to then-County Judge Robert Stephens, serious steps were taken toward merging the city and county governments. Essentially, Stephens was twilighting his job. Although constitutionally mandated, many of the powers of the judge would have to be absorbed by the mayor if merger were to work. Other constitutional offices were more easily resolved. The sheriff became the tax collector, the jailer would administer detention, and the property evaluation officer would conduct assessments.
In a move the echoes of which were heard in the 2010 elections, the county judge and Fiscal Court would be stripped of their authority and remained vestiges of an antiquated government.
A 70-percent majority vote adopted the merged government charter in November 1972, setting the stage for a series of legal maneuvers that would not be settled until just four days before the charter was to take effect. (For whatever reason, merged government leaders rejected the "metro" moniker, opting for the clunky "LFUCG;" Louisville's showed no hesitation when it merged in January 2003.)
On January 1, 1974, Lexington embarked on a new course under the last seven mayors: Foster Petit (who was re-elected as the first mayor of the merged government), Jim Amato, Scotty Baesler, Pam Miller (Lexington's first female mayor), Teresa Isaac, Jim Newberry, and Jim Gray (Lexington's first openly gay mayor).