Andy Berke best choice for Chattanooga mayor

Andy Berke best choice for Chattanooga mayor

February 17th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Andy Berke is running for Chattanooga mayor.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Andy Berke likely is Chattanooga's next mayor, and he's the best choice. He's young, energetic and thinks in broad strokes about the city's future.

Though Berke has yet to be specific about tactics and strategies for improving the city, he has laid out his conceptual goals.

He says he has four priorities for the city:

• Public safety at multiple levels.

• Education outside of school hours - both to combat gangs and to grow a better workforce.

• Economic development and broadened opportunity to bolster Chattanooga jobs and entrepreneurism.

• Public participation in planning city priorities and transparency in government.

These all ring true to the broader vision and direction the city needs, and the list sets out a valid and far-reaching agenda.

What he's not doing is talking about specific action items often voiced here: Increase the number of police officers, give them the tools and take-home cars to do the job, use the city's fabulous fiber optics technology to catch criminals in drug zones; streamline city departments, etc.

But Berke, 44, is a bright man: a Stanford University and University of Chicago School of Law graduate. He was among lawmakers who worked with Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2009 as Bredesen began developing K-12 and higher education initiatives. Those efforts earned Tennessee national recognition and a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant.

Hopefully, Berke will soon move beyond what now appears to be a dodge when he pivots each of our questions back to his opaque talking points about "outcome-based budgeting" and "accountability process" and "community-based participation."

Nearly all City Council candidates talking in recent weeks to the Times Free Press editorial writers have expressed high hopes for his expected coming administration, but they also have said they don't yet know what his platform is and what he stands for.

His opponents - former city employee Guy Satterfield and civic activist Chester Heathington - are quick to point out his lack of specific plans.

Berke, in his interview with the Times Free Press last week, must have used the words "process," "transparency" and "outcomes" nearly dozens of times, all the while becoming more prickly as we pressed him for examples.

Time will tell.

While Berke is not yet communicating his goals with any concrete examples that we mere mortals can understand, the disciplined plan he outlines should chart a sensible path that would give city residents input and ownership.

They also should provide more city accountability.

"Every dollar of the city budget should be used as efficiently as we can, and for the things that make the biggest difference in our city," he said.

Larger visions count more than we know; and a piecemeal checklist - like combining departments and giving back police take-home cars - doesn't necessarily provide a map to the future.

Berke is signaling that he will raise expectations.

He has to.

And he must know that he will ultimately be judged by results more than by specific promises, which he has so-far refused to make.