Chattanooga: Campaign pits youth against experience

Chattanooga: Campaign pits youth against experience

March 15th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in News

The District 8 City Council race has no overarching issues or controversies, but instead is defined by one factor: age.

"It's interesting to see the contrast between the young and the old," said Jeff Brown, a local political observer who served as campaign manager for Councilwoman-elect Pam Ladd. "It's about change, but it's not about change."

City Councilman Leamon Pierce, 67, faces AndraƩ McGary, 29, in the April 14 runoff. Mr. Pierce, who has been on the council for 18 years, found himself in the runoff when he was un- able to garner 50 percent plus one vote during the March 3 election.

This will be the first time Mr. Pierce has faced a runoff, records show.

Dr. Bob Swansbrough, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the campaign is shaping up as one between generations.

"It seems to be youth versus experience," he said. "There's clearly a generational gap."

During the course of the campaign, Mr. McGary repeatedly said he respected Mr. Pierce's role as one of several Howard High School students who led lunch counter sit-ins during February 1960. He also said he respects that Mr. Pierce led a lawsuit that helped establish the mayor and City Council form of government in 1990.

Mr. McGary said Thursday Mr. Pierce and others helped "pave the way for him."

"We are indebted to them," he said. "But we have to reach forward, not back."

Mr. Pierce said Thursday he acknowledged the generational difference. But he said Mr. McGary is a man who needs to gain experience.

"He's young, he's energetic, he's just become the neighborhood association president in the last three or four months," Mr. Pierce said. "He hasn't done enough."

Mr. McGary is president of the Oak Grove Neighborhood Association.

Dr. Richard Wilson, a 64-year-old UTC political science professor who participated in the civil rights movement, said he had supported Mr. Pierce for 18 years but now sees things differently in the council race.

"The civil rights movement was a very emotional movement for me," he said. "It was a movement when young people had the power. Councilman Pierce has the power, and he's not hearing the young people. If you call that a generational gap, then it is."

He said "both young and old" need their constitutional rights protected.

Nyoka Meadows, one of Mr. Pierce's 1960 Howard High School classmates, said Mr. Pierce is an icon of Chattanooga history and that Mr. McGary carries himself well and is articulate.

But she said she felt his time needs to come later and not when the country is in a recession.

"I feel experience at this time is more valuable than a good speech," she said.