Mayoral candidate Rob Healy said Monday Chattanooga has a public safety problem and that he would increase police manpower during his administration.
"If we don't have a safe city, companies aren't going to want to come here," Mr. Healy said. "People are not going to want to go downtown. People are not going to want to live in their neighborhoods."
All four mayoral candidates - Mr. Healy, Mayor Ron Littlefield, Joe Lance and Thomas Smith II - participated in a public forum Monday at the Pachyderm Club in downtown Chattanooga. Each candidate had five minutes to give his campaign platform and then respond to audience questions.
Mr. Healy and Mr. Lance said public safety would be a main concern. Each said he feels police and fire departments in the city are underfunded and underequipped.
"The No. 1 priority is to increase the effectiveness and the reach of our police force," Mr. Lance said. "Now, we have to pay for that somehow, right? The only answer is to take a look at the existing budget, and there are moneys in there."
Mr. Littlefield rebutted the arguments, saying he put the departments "on notice that they have a bright future ahead of them."
"Our police and fire department will definitely grow," he said. "We've done pay studies and brought them up to a comparable level to other communities."
The mayor stressed he wants to be re-elected so the city could see stability during rough economic times.
Mr. Smith, a candidate who has run for mayor in the past, told club members he was running to help shine a light on poverty in the city. He asked all Chattanoogans to volunteer one hour of community service during the year.
"I'm not here to get your vote," Mr. Smith said. "I'm here to get your heart."
Early voting for the city election begins Feb. 11 and ends Feb. 26. The municipal election is March 3.