published Sunday, January 13th, 2013

In campaign to be Chattanooga's mayor, Andy Berke chooses broad strokes over specifics


by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga mayor hopeful Andy Berke addresses the crowd during a fundraiser for his campaign Wednesday. He faces Guy Satterfield and Chester Heathington Jr. in the March election.
Chattanooga mayor hopeful Andy Berke addresses the crowd during a fundraiser for his campaign Wednesday. He faces Guy Satterfield and Chester Heathington Jr. in the March election.
Photo by Connor Choate.

BERKE'S PLANS

Sen. Andy Berke responded to questions about specifics of his mayoral platform in a Times Free Press interview:

Q: Would you make a promise that property taxes would not be hiked?

A: I will ensure that I am a good steward of taxpayer money.

Q: Do we need more police?

A: We need a plan that reduces crime and [to] follow through with that plan.

Q: Have you started making such a plan?

A: I've been talking about this for our entire campaign on how we're going to do this, making sure we use our officers in the most efficient way possible to prevent crime from occurring.

Q: How will you address city-county relations?

A: People want to see their political leaders working together, not bickering, and that is true on every level. My main emphasis will be on results. If we work together we will get better results than being at cross-purposes.

Q: You've talked about cutting programs. What needs to be cut?

A: We need to set community goals on where we are driving our city and judge what government does by if we are getting closer to our goal. Those things that aren't necessary should be cut.

Q: How can the city help with education, which is funded and run at the county level?

A: While the county controls the schools, education is a broader topic. The city can help ensure that children show up in the classroom ready to learn. We can also partner with the county to find ways to enhance students' strengths instead of harping on their weaknesses.

Q: What's your stance on metro government?

A: I'm running for office to provide the best government I can for the city of Chattanooga. If there are places where the city and county can consolidate to save taxpayer money I am happy to do that.

Terry Lee sat in a chair Wednesday night waiting for the guest of honor to take the podium.

The guest? Former state Sen. Andy Berke, a Democrat, who most people say is the leading contender to be the next mayor of Chattanooga.

Lee, who lives just outside the city line on Highway 58, was present for the Berke fundraiser at the Harrington Building on Main Street. Lee said he has financially supported Berke.

But when asked what he knew about Berke's specific platform, Lee sat for several seconds, his forehead furrowed.

"I don't know," he said. "Most of the speeches have been pretty general."

Berke announced his campaign for mayor eight months ago and has held coffee talks and town meetings and knocked on doors. He says he has listened to the people to hear their concerns.

Out of those conversations, he said, he has developed four priorities: education, economic development, public safety and government accountability.

"The reason I talk so much about public safety, economic development, accountability and transparency is that is what I'm hearing from the people of Chattanooga," Berke said in an interview Friday.

But Berke did not directly answer questions related to the city such as addressing water, wastewater and sewer through a regional authority, metro government and whether he would increase property taxes during his administration.

That has been a hallmark of Berke's campaign: Focus on the talking points and leave the specifics for later.

His challengers in the race -- former city employee Guy Satterfield and perennial candidate Robert Chester Heathington Jr. -- question his plans to move Chattanooga forward.

"What's he going to do?" Satterfield asked. "If elected mayor, what are you going to do?"

Issues and answers

Satterfield has a flier that he puts on people's cars and doors outlining what he would do if elected, such as eliminate the Department of Education, Arts & Culture, the Office of Green Sustainability, Multicultural Affairs and the deputy mayor and spokesman positions. It also says he would restructure the City Attorney's Office, the Public Works Department and the Waste Resources Division.

He would also give take-home cars back to police.

Heathington said he would start within the first 100 days targeting crime hot spots in the city. He said he wants to take on corruption, such as bid rigging.

Heathington also questions Berke's platform.

"The only thing I've heard is renewal," Heathington said. "I don't know what he's wanting to renew."

Berke says renewing Chattanooga is about bringing people together.

"It's about renewing our commitment to the city, each other and finding ways to build our community, create opportunity and share responsibility," he said.

At the Wednesday fundraiser, East Brainerd resident Billy Pell said he was involved with the effort to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield. He hopes to see changes in city government, particularly an effort to root out what he sees as corruption.

But he also admitted he knew nothing about Berke's platform.

"That's why I'm here," he said. "To hear him speak."

During the speech, Berke focused on the same four talking points of education, economic development, public safety and government accountability.

He said "unnecessary programs must be cut," but offered no specifics.

Erskine Ogleby, who lives in Chattanooga, said that is because Berke is a hands-on leader who listens to the people before making any decisions.

"It's easy to assume you know what you want, but it's harder to ask," he said. "Andy's the kind of person who will ask."

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