Chattanooga Mayor Election Season

Chattanooga’s mayoral race got started late last August when city councilman Larry Grohn announced his bid, followed soon by Andy Berke, the incumbent, announcing his own campaign for reelection. The other mayoral candidates are Chris Long, an architectural engineering consultant, and David Crockett, a former three-time City Council member.The elections will be held on March 7.

Grohn, who represents District 4 that encompasses the East Brainerd area and surrounding communities, has been critical of Berke’s administration since the start of the race, pointing to it’s violence reduction initiative and saying, in a as WRCB Chattanooga reports, “I think it certainly could be better. Even in this neighborhood, we still have bullets flying and people dying. We've got to do better.”

At a recent candidate forum, curbing violence was a primary topic, along with economic development and public education.

Grohn, however, focused in on what he perceives to be a lack of transparency in the Berke administration, reports the Times Free Press. He questioned if the mayor’s office’s decision to suspend the Director of the Youth and Family Development Department for a week for misusing nearly $30,000 in nonprofit funds was severe enough. Previously, Grohn also criticized the administration’s use of the encrypted text messaging app, Whatsapp, to communicate government business, something Berke had admitted to and terminated.

During the forum, Long tagged himself as an expert on development and building codes, while Crockett said Chattanooga needs to start thinking bigger, instead of running off of the transformations he helped to instigate as a City Councilman in the 90’s.

Under the administration of former Mayor Ron Littlefield, Crockett worked as the director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. As the Times Free Press writes, he claims to be “a widely-known driving force in Chattanooga’s renaissance in the previous two decades,” including work with Greenway Farm, Southside redevelopment, and Enterprise South. His bid statement also pointed to his early work in community-planning initiatives in Glenwood, Hixon, and Southside neighborhoods.

Long, on the other hand, is a businessman running for office for the first time. In a WDEF segment, Long says, “I’m running as an independent. I don’t carry no party line. The community, the city is my boss, and I will be routinely out here in the city keeping the pulse of what’s going on.” Long focuses his candidacy on building a skilled labor force to attract industry and investment. According to him, a robust labor force would also reduce crime, as more jobs would become attractive alternatives to illegal activity.

Recently, much candidate rhetoric has centered on the Mayor’s pledge to contribute 1 million city dollars to the development of a children’s hospital at Erlanger. Both Crockett and Grohn see the pledge as merely a campaign ploy since the money would come in four installments of $250,000 over the next four years. In a WDEF report, Berke claims the pledge is a quality of life investment and will spur more development. City Council has to approve of the plan before it is enacted, and Crockett says that if elected, he will not recommend it.

Gail Francis, a Chattanooga educator who dropped out in December to support Grohn, is the only person to have left the race.