Smith: On Mayor Berke: Word on the street

Smith: On Mayor Berke: Word on the street

March 31st, 2014 in Opinion Columns

Robin Smith

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

As often as possible, I select topics for this space to reflect talk I hear at the coffee pot or in the lunch line.

So, here we go.

Andy Berke was elected Chattanooga mayor after a noncampaign. He successfully transferred campaign funds from his Tennessee Senate campaign to the mayoral race, giving him a solid advantage. Further, the downtown business community was assured by Berke, a Democrat, he would be nonpartisan and focus on jobs and economic development.

Andy Berke served one four-year term and then one year more in the state Senate, leaving the General Assembly in 2012 to run for mayor. Prior to that, he practiced law at the firm that his grandfather, Harry Berke, established in 1934, according to an online biography.

As a member of Senate Education and Transportation committees, Andy Berke's political career was not marked by any key legislation. The Nashville Scene, an alternative news publication, best captured Berke's persona: "The left side of the Twitterverse lit up last night with the news that former state senator and liberal darling Andy Berke had been elected mayor of Chattanooga."

Sound familiar?

A certain former Illinois state senator voted "present" 129 times during his seven years in office before becoming a national sensation in 2004 during his U.S. Senate race. This attorney offered up soaring rhetoric in his national debut at the Democratic National Committee in a keynote address.

Later, Barack Obama was officially sworn in as a United States senator on Jan. 3, 2005. He announced his decision to resign from the Senate to seek the presidency on Nov. 13, 2008.

Both Andy Berke and Barack Obama share a preference for government involvement versus the private sector. Both liberal darlings have a following based on activity, not results. Both thrive on class warfare and the politics of division by gender, skin color and sexual preference.

Glaringly, both Andy Berke and Barack Obama not only want to control the message from their respective administrations, they want to control the messengers, the press. They've redefined "transparent government" to mean a stone wall of staff members who use Twitter, Facebook and other social media vehicles to dribble out 140-character messages.

These are the sentiments I've heard at the downtown Starbucks and Community Pie and the frustrations I've noted from lunches on Gunbarrel Road and during church chats in Hixson.

Since his swearing-in ceremony on April 15, 2013, we've seen Mayor Berke support the expansion of health benefits to unmarried domestic partners at taxpayer expense while the Police and Firefighters' Pension is reduced. We've heard promises of crime reduction targeted at gang members that have devolved into a messaging war with local media before any real actions have yielded results.

Chattanooga is a unique community thriving on civic engagement, business partnerships and a commitment to success. The Berke Administration has brought D.C. politics -- some say Chicago politics -- to our city.

I hope more people who share these sentiments will be honest and open with their opinions and intervene. Chattanooga should remain unique and void of narcissistic politicians who only know how to talk.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm and serves on Tennessee's Economic Council on Women.