Martin: Demetrus Coonrod's second chance

Martin: Demetrus Coonrod's second chance

April 21st, 2017 by David Martin in Opinion Columns

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Foster Judge Curtis L. Collier, left, administers the oath of office to Demetrus Coonrod on Monday during the inaugural ceremony of Mayor Andy Berke and the Chattanooga City Council members at the Tivoli.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

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Much of Chattanooga got a jolt last Wednesday when a local report made the rounds detailing the troubled past of newly elected District 9 city Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod.

Let's call it what it is: Coonrod's record is a jaw-dropper.

Her rap sheet includes child abuse and neglect charges, assault and disorderly conduct charges, theft and writing worthless checks, as well as an armed robbery conviction.

In short, she's a convicted felon. More importantly, she's a restored felon, which means she's straightened her life out enough over the years that she's regained both her voting and citizenship rights.

If you'd never heard of Coonrod's past before last Wednesday, you might still be trying to pull your eyebrows out of your hairline after reading that well-traveled article.

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District 9 residents were arguably less shocked. One of them, a former City Council candidate himself, John Kerns, insisted in a Chattanooga Times opinion piece over Easter weekend that all of the Coonrod hoopla was "stale news."

He wrote that "anyone paying attention to the District 9 race, probably the highest-profile contest of this cycle, would be well-aware of Coonrod's story."

Kerns, who lost to Coonrod before her runoff win against Yusuf Hakeem, believes the post-election article was published to "delegitimize" her even before her swearing-in.

Perhaps. Yet I'd argue only the publisher of the article knows why it was written as well as the timing of its release. Also, I'd add the caveat that the District 9 race was the highest-profile — only inside District 9. There was another runoff that plenty of people watched closely. Not to mention a handful of other contested campaigns.

It's understandable that Kerns believed District 9's competition was the most-followed. If I were running, I'd surely feel the same way about my own. After all, we humans are egocentric and view disproportionately the gravity of our pursuits.

That said, most Chattanoogans likely paid attention to only two races: the mayoral contest and the council matchup in their respective residential district.

Given that probable reality, most people living in Lookout Valley, Hixson, the North Shore and any other non-9th district area only caught up on all things Coonrod last Wednesday. To them, her lengthy roll call of misdeeds was certainly not "stale news."

In a pre-runoff community forum, Coonrod said, "My record and my lifestyle has been an open book. I don't have any secrets or anything that I have to hide from anybody in my district."

From people familiar with her bid, that certainly was the case as she campaigned. But she didn't knock on doors in East Brainerd. She didn't dial phone numbers in St. Elmo. Those folks hadn't heard her full story yet.

They're about to get familiar with her, though. With the council sworn in Monday, they're already getting down to business, rookies and veterans alike.

I have no idea how Coonrod will vote. I may end up being her cheerleader, or I may soon be at odds with her over policy matters. Either way, however, I do believe most Chattanoogans would be well served to get to know her as her story represents an existence that many are wholly unfamiliar with.

In Kerns' op-ed, he wrote that Chattanoogans should celebrate Coonrod's redemption narrative. I agree with him wholeheartedly. As Americans, we're familiar with such stories. They are often the most inspiring kind.

So let Demetrus be judged by her actions on the council and her upcoming voting record. And if those end up being unsatisfactory, her constituents can replace her in four years.

Simple as that. At least it should be.

Contact David Allen Martin at davidallenmartin423@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.

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