Chattanooga: Candidates vie for last-minute election support

Chattanooga: Candidates vie for last-minute election support

March 1st, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in News

With two days to go before polls open for city elections, candidates are hustling for votes and attacking one other on issues.

The latest round of attacks occurred Friday when mayoral candidate Rob Healy questioned some out-of-town campaign contributions to Mayor Ron Littlefield.

"I don't know what their relationship is to Chattanooga," Mr. Healy said. "It raises some questions about what their interest is."

Mr. Littlefield, whose professional background is in city planning, said he has many friends with similar interests and backgrounds in the nation's capital.

Mr. Littlefield faces Mr. Healy and Thomas Smith II in Tuesday's election. Four sitting City Council members face opposition and two council seats opened after Councilwoman Debbie Gaines and Councilman Dan Page chose not to run.

Three council members, Sally Robinson, District 2; Jack Benson, District 4; and Russell Gilbert, District 5, are unopposed.

Predictions of light voter turnout by Hamilton County Elections officials have not deterred candidates in their search for votes and contributions.

Campaign financial disclosures released last week show heavy union contributions to the campaigns of District 6 City Councilwoman Carol Berz, District 3 candidate Pam Ladd and District 8 City Councilman Leamon Pierce.

The Service Employees International Union Local 205, which contributed $10,000 to the Littlefield campaign in 2005, did not donate anything to the mayor's campaign this year.

Jeff Berntsen, senior organizer for the SEIU, said union members decided not to contribute to the mayor and instead focused on council races. Lack of union contributions could be construed as a statement, he said.

"The mayor has reached out recently," he said. "Granted, it's election time."

Mr. Smith has received no contributions and said he would not take any for fear of getting in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service.

A review of Mr. Healy's contributions shows that most donations came from private contributors within Hamilton County.

He raised a question about $6,000 in donations from the family of Chattanooga developer Franklin Haneyr.

"I'm not sure I understand that," Mr. Healy said.

Mr. Haney could not be reached for comment. Mr. Littlefield said the explanation for the Haney family contributing so much was simple.

"They're old friends," he said. "They're able to do that."