Crime has topped the priorities lists of all four of Chattanooga's mayoral candidates, but each has a somewhat different vision on how to fix it.
On Monday, they shared their crime-fighting thoughts during a forum hosted by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women at the packed fellowship hall of Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church in Brainerd. The contenders — Mayor Andy Berke and challengers David Crockett, Larry Grohn and Chris Long — took their cues from written questions submitted by the audience.
All called for supporting the police department, but said that improving workforce development, affordable housing and education opportunities would attack crime at its roots.
Getting good jobs to everyone so they can share in the city's growing prosperity is key, Berke said.
"As more jobs come, we need workforce development so everyone can participate in this resurgence, so it's not just limited to some groups and some people," he said.
Berke underscored his administration's commitment to public-private partnerships to boost learning opportunities and reading programs conducted by the city's Youth and Family Development centers.
"If kids don't get off to a good start, they have less chance to succeed," Berke said.
Crockett, a former three-time city councilman, didn't mince his thoughts on how the city should handle crime and said it would take big thinking to truly transform Chattanooga.
"We will treat criminals as criminals," Crockett said. "We will not run a social experiment with our communities, with our children, with our city or with our economy."
Crockett's vision calls for ensuring a high-speed train connection between north Atlanta and the Chattanooga Municipal Airport to serve as the impetus driving economic prosperity for the entire city.
He said he would support community wellbeing by offering training used by military personnel and their families to help them thrive and survive, he said.
Grohn, a city councilman, claimed Berke's crime initiatives only treated a symptom of underlying problems.
"Unless we address these core issues, we may not get a handle on the crime in this city, because that is what is driving the crime," Grohn said.
He attacked the administration for a "severe lack" of workforce development and has called for a revival of vocational education as a means to provide living wages for the disadvantaged.
Long, an architectural consultant and self-described "building codes fanatic," attacked Chattanooga's stormwater program, which he said has strangled development. In turn, stifled development has prevented the kind of private sector investment needed to boost economic prosperity and starve crime throughout the city, he said.
He took shots at "pie-in-the-sky ideas" championed by the other candidates.
"We don't have time for this Emerald City we have going on," Long said. "People have to work."
The candidates also spoke to how they would boost police department performance, focusing on increased diversity.
Long called for more black officers, while Crockett and Grohn noted the need for intense internships to better prepare interested minority and women candidates to serve on the police force.
"We're actually doing that," Berke said, citing intentional pushes for diversity within the city's departments.
The National Coalition of 100 Black Women will host a forum for city council candidates at Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church, located at 1734 E. Third St., at 6 p.m.on Feb. 6.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.