Chattanooga's four mayoral contenders shared the stage Wednesday morning in a candidate forum hosted by the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors.
Mayor Andy Berke and challengers David Crockett, Larry Grohn and Chris Long fielded questions about their plans for public education, economic development and curbing crime. They generally viewed all three topics as interconnected, but gave their own take on how to make Chattanooga a better place to live, work and play.
"I'm an expert on building codes, planning development and I'm in tune with the community, the developers, because I've been one," Long said.
Long, an architectural engineering consultant, regularly blasted the city's stormwater program as a hindrance to development.
Crockett, a former three-time member of the City Council, said Chattanooga leadership required bigger thinking, claiming the city is running on "a dead-stick glide" from transformations he pushed for in the 1990s.
"You cannot do photo ops, Facebook posts and political projects and transform a city," Crockett said.
Grohn, who currently serves on the City Council, called for reinvigorated investment in technical school training and increased government transparency. He specifically questioned why the mayor's office only gave a one-week suspension to Lurone Jennings, the director of Youth and Family Development, who misused nearly $30,000 in nonprofit funding.
Berke pointed to successes achieved over the last four years.
"If there's one thing I've learned over the last four years, is we can make progress," Berke said, citing public-private partnerships investing in young people, economic growth and quality of life.
Berke said Chattanooga needs to continue taking more guns off the streets, figuring out how to grow wages and bringing more business to Chattanooga.
The Realtor association hosted a separate forum for candidates seeking City Council seats. Eighteen of the 21 council candidates spoke at the forum, including three who will not face challengers in the March 7 election: Ken Smith of District 3, Darrin Ledford of District 4 and Carol Berz of District 6.
Councilman Chip Henderson and challenger Susan Miller participated in the District 1 forum, while Councilman Jerry Mitchell and challenger Mickey McCamish spoke at the District 2 forum. Incumbent Russell Gilbert and challenger Jeffrey Evans appeared for the District 5 forum.
Councilman Chris Anderson and challengers Erskine Oglesby Jr. and Manny Rico attended the District 7 forum.
Councilman Moses Freeman and challengers Anthony Byrd and Thomas Kunesh spoke at the District 8 forum.
Councilman Yusuf Hakeem faced challengers Demetrus Coonrod and John L. Kerns during the District 9 forum.
Candidates answered questions ranging from what they would fund if they controlled the purse strings to city revenues to what partnerships and programs did they consider essential for improving public education.
The moderator also asked candidates to identity ways to improve life opportunities for the city's disadvantaged communities.
Association president Mark Hite thanked the candidates for their personal sacrifices made for the community's greater good.
"We [the association] pledge that we will continue to be good partners with the City Council as we continue to not only address the issues, but also make the most of the opportunities that our great city has," Hite said.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.