A more conservative council and a mayor without a plan

A more conservative council and a mayor without a plan

March 6th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Campaign signs line East Brainerd Road in front of the polling place at Concord Baptist Church as voting takes place Tuesday in Chattanooga's municipal election.

Campaign signs line East Brainerd Road in front...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

On Tuesday night, the long, slow slog towards the inevitable finally ended. Andy Berke is officially the mayor-elect of Chattanooga.

For the sake of the city, we hope Berke is a great leader for Chattanooga. In reality, though, we simply have no idea what kind of mayor he will be. What he has told Chattanoogans about specific policies he wants to enact couldn't fill a thimble. And that's scary, because he'll probably be Chattanooga's mayor for a long, long time.

As much as Berke might like to leverage his mayoral post into a successful bid for governor or U.S. senator, a Democrat has about as much chance of winning a statewide race in Tennessee as Gary Busey has of winning "All-Star Celebrity Apprentice."

We really only know one thing about Berke for sure: He is not Ron Littlefield. When the new mayor's biggest selling point is that he's not the big-spending, crony-protecting failure Chattanooga has had in the mayor's office for the last eight years, that isn't saying much.

As voters, Chattanoogans just bought a pig in a poke. There's nothing left to do now except hope for the best.

Chattanooga's hanging chad

The most stunning outcome of Tuesday's election wasn't an outcome at all. At least not yet, anyway. In the District 9 contest between incumbent Peter Murphy and former council member Yusuf Hakeem, neither man won -- and they were the only two people running.

Chattanooga election law requires that a candidate receive a majority of the votes cast or face the next highest vote-earner in an April runoff election. Hakeem wound up with 49.98 percent of the vote -- just one single vote shy of winning. Murphy, for his part, earned only six fewer votes than Hakeem. Seven voters cast write-in votes. If just two of them had just not voted, or one of them had voted for Hakeem, Hakeem would be the winner.

Because the election commission has an unknown number of provisional ballots to consider in the coming days, it's possible that either Hakeem or Murphy will end up with over 50 percent of the vote and a runoff won't be necessary.

For now, however, the real stars of the election are the seven people who wrote-in "Homer Simpson" or "Howard Stern" to be funny or to prove a point. Those seven people could dramatically impact the outcome of the election.

No incumbency advantage this time

Three incumbents were defeated handily on Tuesday. Two more -- Murphy and Jack Benson -- are could easily lose in runoffs. Only two of the nine current council members are assured of returning.

As a principled small government conservative, Ken Smith, who beat Pam Ladd in District 4, will make a fine addition to the council. In District 7, Chris Anderson bested incumbent Manny Rico by 300 votes after Rico became unhinged in the final days of the race, attacking Anderson's sexuality and claiming anti-Latino sentiment in the media.

For conservatives, Moses Freeman's dominating win over District 8 incumbent Andraé McGary might be the most disappointing result in an otherwise encouraging night.

Districts 1, 3 and 7 will all have more fiscally responsible city council members in the wake of the elections of Chip Henderson, Smith and Anderson. District 4 will join that list if Larry Grohn wins the runoff over Benson.

Pitiful turnout ... as predicted

As expected, voter turnout was pathetic. In a city of more than 170,000 residents, only 18,194 showed up to vote -- a shameful 16.3 percent of registered voters.

If Election Day 2013 proved anything, it's that Chattanooga city elections should be moved to coincide with the August and November elections during a presidential election year, so that turnout will be 60 or 70 percent, rather than less than 20 percent.