Embattled Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson starts campaign to keep post

Embattled Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson starts campaign to keep post

February 1st, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

THE PETITION PROCESS

If the petition form is certified, the the Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency will have 75 days to gather 1,600 signatures -- 15 percent of the registered voters in District 7.

If the petition is certified Feb. 13, the group's signature deadline will be April 29.

If the petition is certified later, the signatures must be collected and verified by May 9, or 90 days before the Aug. 7 election. The recall question would appear on the ballot beside a referendum whether to allow same-sex benefits for Chattanooga employees that Anderson championed on the council.

If the petition is certified and signatures collected within 75 days, but after May 9, the recall question will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

POLL: Should Chris Anderson be recalled?

Nine months after winning election, Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson may have to campaign again -- this time to keep his seat.

A group of District 7 residents is seeking to have Anderson, the city's first openly gay councilman, ousted from office. They claim that his efforts to bring same-sex benefits to city employees are not in line with their beliefs and that Anderson has not made good on campaign promises to support some areas of the district. They have drafted a petition to have his March election recalled.

"I'm going to treat this like a full-fledged campaign. If this recall [petition] is going to happen, I'm going to reach out to everyone and make sure that the message is clear: I'm here to represent all of District 7," Anderson said.

District 7 includes parts of Alton Park, downtown, East Lake and St. Elmo.

Hamilton County Election Commission Chairman Mike Walden said the commission will discuss the petition on Feb. 13 and may vote to validate or deny it based solely on the legitimacy of the form -- not its purpose.

"If it meets the requirements from the city and state law, then we will approve their petition. Then they'll have 75 days to go get their signatures or not," Walden said.

Gill Shropshire, president of the Alton Park Neighborhood Association, said his neighborhood isn't concerned with Anderson's sexuality.

"If we were holding that against him, we wouldn't have voted for him in the first place," Shropshire said.

But he says Anderson has left Alton Park in the cold.

"When he went from door to door telling everyone what he was going to do for [Alton Park], we told him we would support him. We told him if he didn't come through, we would fire him. And that's what we are doing."

Shropshire said Anderson pledged to see that Alton Park received grant money and financial attention from the city to improve residents' quality of life. Specifically, Shropshire noted improved housing for seniors and a recreation center for area youth.

"Look at his record. He ain't done none of that. Show me one thing that he's done in Alton Park and the people out here," Shropshire said. "He didn't think we was going to give him his walking papers."

Some residents do oppose Anderson based on his sexuality.

George Goss, an East Lake resident involved in the recall effort who opposed Anderson's election in the first place, said Anderson has used his position to promote an agenda unmentioned in his campaign.

"Mr. Anderson never said anything whatsoever about pushing for sodomite benefits, and that's just how I'm going to put it. He never said anything about that when he was running to get elected," Goss said.

Chris Anderson

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Still, not every neighborhood in District 7 feels shorted by Anderson.

Heidi Hefferlin, who just wrapped up a two-year term as the Southside Cowart Place Neighborhood Association president, said Anderson has been very active, and she's happy with his representation.

Along with helping the neighborhood work with the city to have stop signs added for traffic control and to reduce the speed limit on Main Street, Hefferlin said Anderson has helped the neighborhood get better acquainted with police.

"We are very happy with his representation, I can tell you that," Hefferlin said. "He helped us collaborate with police ... to change the amount of time patrol cars spent in our neighborhood. He helped us to get to know our officers and when we call with a problem someone shows up to help."

Paige Wichman, president of the Community Association of Historic St. Elmo, also said her neighbors feel Anderson has been very attentive.

She said the recall effort is a waste of time.

"I feel like it's a shame for Chris personally and for those of us who he represents because this takes time away from his ability to represent us and work for us," she said. "We already went through this during the election. If those people feel he has not done a good job, they will be able to voice their opinions at the next election."

In March, Anderson unseated two-term Councilman Manny Rico with 56 percent of the votes, or 801.

Anderson said he has worked hard for District 7, and he's taking the recall effort seriously. He has started campaigning to keep his post, asking for residents to contribute to fight the recall effort. And he's gained support from a national gay and lesbian rights group.

The Washington, D.C.-based Victory Fund on Thursday asked its 122,000 Facebook subscribers to sign a statement in support of Anderson. A spokesman for the group declined to comment Thursday because he said he had not first spoken with Anderson.

Anderson said he's only been in office for nine months and already has answered many needs of his constituents.

"And there's more to come very soon that residents will be pleased with," he said.

Citing the involvement of Charlie Wysong, a pastor and local tea party member who is a voice for the recall effort but does not live in District 7, Anderson said outside forces are trying to influence district politics. Wysong lives in District 6, which includes parts of Ooltewah, Brainerd, Concord, Summit and Tyner.

"My district doesn't want this. These are outsiders and conservatives from Ooltewah asking for people to recall a Democratic councilman in District 7," Anderson said.

Wysong said he is only serving city residents who reached out to him for support. The draft petition asks residents to mail their signatures to Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency and includes a Hixson post office box. Hixson is not in District 7.

The citizens group also spearheaded the effort to put Chattanooga's same-sex benefits vote to a citywide referendum.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon @timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.