Cook: Long live the Queen!

Cook: Long live the Queen!

September 18th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

You did it.

You absolutely, positively, heck-yes did it.

After reading that City Hall was making moves to evict the Delta Queen from her home on our riverfront, you spoke out like a foghorn, paddlewheeling the crazy idea back to wherever it came from.

"Stop this nonsense," one citizen said to Mayor Andy Berke. "She is a beautiful and historic boat."

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the city acquiesced and granted a six-month extension to the Delta Queen and promised to work with owners instead of evict them.

"We have extended the agreement for another six months," the mayor's office stated.

Evicting the Queen was a move more appropriate for soap opera television than city politics. She's a treasure -- literally, a national treasure -- and a best supporting actress to the landscape that is our downtown riverfront.

Why on earth would City Hall tell the Queen to skeedaddle?

Several reasons, it seems. One, City Hall claimed the Queen's owners were late in rent (a claim the owners deny). Two, our riverfront was apparently becoming a beauty contest, where only the prettiest stay, with the mayor judging that the Queen didn't make the grade.

"What we're trying to do is continue to ensure that our downtown riverfront remains beautiful," Berke's Chief of Staff Travis McDonough said on Monday, explaining why the Queen should go.

Third, City Hall claimed it had heard anti-Queen complaints from citizens.

"More than a dozen. Less than 50," McDonough said.

That's when you stepped in. Monday's column suggested that if the mayor's already heard from citizens who oppose the Queen, then perhaps you should send him an email (and copy me) so he now hears from those who support her.

By sunrise, 13 of you had emailed.

"Mr. Mayor, The Delta Queen is a treasure and Chattanooga should do anything and everything to keep it here," one reader wrote.

By midmorning, another 58 had emailed.

"If you want my Vote, let the boat stay afloat," one reader emailed.

By high noon, 52 more of you had emailed.

"It is beautiful and last year some friends of mine came to Chattanooga just to stay on it," another wrote.

By midafternoon, another 82.

"Not a workday goes by that I don't look at the stern of the Delta Queen as I go across Veterans Bridge and think what a good-looking piece of history that is, and how lucky Chattanooga is to have the boat here," one reader emailed.

By late afternoon, I stopped counting ... at 210 emails.

That's not a typo: 210 citizen emails.

Which means not only does Chattanooga deserve the Queen, but she deserves you, too.

"My two daughters love this boat," one reader said. "Several years ago, I brought my Girl Scout troop to stay on the Queen. They still talk about it. Anybody can stay in a hotel but only a few are blessed with the experience of spending the night on a boat with such rich Southern history. The Delta Queen is one of my favorites. Please don't send her away."

To his credit, the mayor backpeddled away from this idea, changing his plans after, apparently, hearing from all of you. That's worth something, especially in these days of our refuse-to-be-wrong world of hardball politics.

So, City Hall, bravo.

But I can't help but recall one man's message (not one for email, he telephoned) from Tuesday morning.

"Put me down as a vote to keep her here," he said. "She's the most beautiful site on the riverfront and Andy Berke has apparently lost his marbles."

But you see, I don't think he has.

Under most circumstances, Berke is a pretty smart fellow. So why would he think evicting the Queen was a good move?

Was he bowing to pressure from a handful of powerful citizens who want the ship gone?

Did he have plans up his sleeve for some new business that wanted to take over that riverfront spot? Moving the Queen would make room for that, whatever that might be.

(Troubling is the fact that City Hall boldly entered into the free market, trying to determine which businesses could stay, and which couldn't.)

Maybe he just didn't realize how beloved the old Queen really is.

He sure knows now.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.