The Chattanooga Times backs Benson in District 4

The Chattanooga Times backs Benson in District 4

February 14th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Chattanooga City Council member Jack Benson.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Jack Benson has represented District 4 - East Brainerd, Concord and Summit - for 12 years.

"I've always tried to vote for what's best for citizens, and I think we want someone in office with a good [council] background," Benson told editorial writers in an interview. "That's why I'm running. I haven't seen anyone on the scene who can do that."

But Benson, this election, faces the political race of his life with plenty of opposition. Most of it has been brought on by zoning and development issues around Hamilton Place mall, along with the community's perception of crime.

His opponents -- Realtor Ryan King, businessman Tom Tomisek, self-described citizen volunteer lobbyist Scott McColpin and tea party activist Larry Grohn -- all say Benson has been a rubber stamp for Mayor Ron Littlefield.

Benson's chief opponent, Grohn, claims he doesn't do his council homework and has been "too close" to two developers who have funded his campaigns.

The rhetoric even spilled into City Council chambers Tuesday when Grohn, speaking out against a rezoning on Gunbarrel Road, accused the councilman of a possible conflict of interest. Grohn claims the developer, Ken DeFoor, has been Benson's largest contributor since 2005.

DeFoor, also at the council to speak about the Gunbarrel property rezoning from residential to commercial, countered that it is his right to contribute, and he also has supported other candidates.

Benson, after the meeting, called the show "political."

The reality is that Benson has been far more faithful to the Hamilton Place zoning blueprint than probably anyone else in the city -- dogging it for years in an effort to keep it consistent and to concentrate growth so the mall would not lose customers. He fought to preserve its integrity against variances from the community-based plan put in place a decade ago.

Benson often opposed the mayor and the development community on points of principle like few have done. And Benson touts police statistics that he says show the district has the lowest crime rate in the city.

Benson, too, isn't afraid to take on the new political atmosphere from the tea party and other ultra-conservative voices that hide behind cries of too much taxation and too little transparency. Benson says they are just under-informed.

"One person said sell Memorial Auditorium and the Tivoli. Why stop there? Why not sell Coolidge Park while we'll at it?" he asks rhetorically.

In response to the complaint that Benson doesn't do his homework, he said he has missed only one council meeting in three terms, and he handles his part-time council seat like a full-time job.

He has been a stalwart on the council, and deserves re-election.