President-elect Barack Obama’s historic win on Nov. 4 is inspiring some young blacks to consider their own bids for elected office in Chattanooga, although some question whether that energy can trickle down to local elections.
“I think it will have some impact,” said the Rev. Paul McDaniel, one of the first blacks to serve on the Hamilton County Commission. “To what degree is yet to be seen. It might be reflected in the election in the spring of ’09.”
Dr. Bob Swansbrough, professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said he doesn’t see the presidential election affecting municipal races. But he might be wrong this time, he acknowledged.
“Usually, they (local races) are pretty distinctive,” he said. “But the Obama slogan, ‘Yes, we can’ would encourage more people running.”
The city elections in March could provide the first glimpse into whether this year’s presidential race will yield more black candidates.
Already, 24-year-old Dennis Clark has filed qualifying papers to run against City Councilman Leamon Pierce in District 8. André McGary, 29, said he also is considering a run.
Both men said they had thought of running before President-elect Obama won, but they said his historic win has encouraged them to believe that they can run and win, too.
“You really see in the city a new generation of leadership,” Mr. Clark said.
Mr. McGary said the presidential race has changed political dynamics at all levels.
“On even a local level, a state level, it’s there for the taking,” he said. “It’s a whole new opportunity.”
BLACK ELECTED OFFICIALS
The nine-member Chattanooga City Council has three black members and the nine-member Hamilton County Commission has two. The eight-member Hamilton County legislative delegation has two black members.
Chattanooga City Council
* Debbie Gaines
* Russell Gilbert
* Leamon Pierce
Hamilton County Commission
* Warren Mackey
* Greg Beck
* Tommie Brown
* Joanne Favors
KEY ELECTION DATES
* Dec. 18: Qualifying deadline for municipal candidates
* March 3: Municipal election day
Source: Hamilton County Election Commission
Mr. Pierce, who has served on the City Council since 1990, said the presidential election won’t play a role at all in local politics. He declined to answer further questions.
Several other young blacks said that while they may not run for public office next year, the successful Obama campaign has made them think twice about bids in the future.
Wade Hinton, a 34-year-old attorney, said the presidential election showed people of all races that they can play a role in politics.
“When people showed up to those campaign rallies and said, ‘Yes, we can,’ they believed that,” he said. The campaign “broke down barriers they thought were there.”
Mr. McDaniel said he has heard talk of younger black leaders coming forth in the city. Within that group, he said, could be Chattanooga’s first black mayor.
“That’s probably more of a possibility,” he said.
He noted that in the U.S. Senate race in 2006, Democrat Harold Ford Jr. won more votes in the city than Republican Bob Corker, who eventually won statewide 51 percent to 48 percent. Chattanooga’s population is 36 percent black, and Blacks make up 20 percent of the county’s population.
In 2001, Irvin Overton came in second in the mayor’s race to Mr. Corker, who won election to the Senate after a single term as mayor. Howard Roddy also received good support during his mayoral bid in 1997, which he lost to Jon Kinsey.
The Unity Group, which Mr. McDaniel leads, has traditionally backed minority leaders in Chattanooga. A group, the Urban League’s Young Professionals, will debut in January, Chattanooga Urban League President Warren Logan said.
The new group will encourage minorities in the professional world and hopefully cultivate interest among members to seek public office, he said. The presidential election should encourage blacks to run, he added.
“It sows seed,” Mr. Logan said.
Chantelle Roberson, 36, serves on the boards of several community organizations. She considered running for public office in the past and now says she will take that step in the future.
“He (Obama) has given me the courage,” Ms. Roberson said.