Andy Berke should uphold transparency he touts

Andy Berke should uphold transparency he touts

February 26th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Andy Berke is running for Chattanooga mayor.

Andy Berke is running for Chattanooga mayor.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


Comments generated by Sunday's Times Free Press story about property holdings by Andy Berke's family.

Mr. Andy Berke can't be held responsible for other people's actions even if they are his family. ...

- Laure Tatum Pearman

I don't think this is newsworthy. Most every successful family owns property.

- Cody D. Works

Personally, I like throwback Mountain Dews. I am unsure about a throwback mayor. After all the work done in Chattanooga to clean (things) up, he certainly looks like a step backward.

- James Berry

It is, and can be, a conflict of interest. He may not hold the deeds to all those properties but he has a personal stake in them through inheritance through his father. That does make it a direct conflict of interest. Furthermore, rundown, dilapidated property and buildings attract the criminal element.

- Patricia Trotter Martin

I think Mr. Berke will be a good mayor. ... While he may not be responsible for his family's choices as everyone is quick to point out, as mayor, he will absolutely have the power to do something about it. ... I'd like to know if he pledges to do that.

- Jeffry Belk

I think Mr. Berke will be a good mayor. I also believe this article is about political dirt-digging. While he may not be responsible for his family's choices as everyone is quick to point out, as mayor, he will absolutely have the power to do something about it ... enforce city codes making his family and every slumlord property owner in the city clean up their messes. I'd like to know if he pledges to do that.

- Jeffry Belk

It's time for city mayoral candidate Andy Berke to put his big-boy pants on and stop hiding behind canned political rhetoric. Nothing points that up better than news stories of trashed vacant lots owned by his father and uncle.

Instead of being specific about ways to help Chattanooga grow, and even pointing to those properties, now Berke is playing defense with an egg on his face. The handlers telling Berke he has nothing to lose by keeping his ideas close to the vest are advising him badly.

Vague, I'm-gonna-make-it-better-with-my-bullet-points promises worked for naive Chattanooga when Jon Kinsey and Bob Corker ran for mayor, but they're like throwing gasoline on a fire in this age of instant online information and distrust of all things wealthy and connected.

There is nothing wrong with improving poor parts of the city. Like it or not, it usually is the real estate interests of people wealthy enough to seek opportunity that drive growth. (These are often the same folks who have enough political clout to seek infrastructure improvements on streets and alleys near their investment properties.)

Do the Berke family holdings look and smell bad to us little people? Sure.

Do they give tea party whiners a new tune? Sure.

Do they have proven potential for eventually opening up a new day of commerce (and taxes, too) on a now-worthless set of properties and at the same time clean up a blight that only encourages gangs and crime. Absolutely.

Does anyone remember what the riverfront behind the old Kirkman High School used to look like?

Does anyone remember what Southside used to look like?

Does anyone remember what Villages at Alton Park used to look like (and sound like with bullets flying) when it was the Spencer J. McCallie Homes?

If you're a Chattanooga newcomer, the answer is that all of those areas looked much like Glass Street does now.

Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker was one of the largest property owners in the city when he ran for the office, though many of his holdings consisted of office buildings and many were leased to government agencies such as the IRS.

He put the properties into a blind trust -- though it's fair to say he knew whether he owned the Osborne Center or not. Technically there was no conflict of interest for him as long as the city didn't lease space in those buildings, and it didn't.

When he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, he was forced to sell those holdings because he did lease some of the space to federal agencies such as the IRS. He sold 36 office buildings and more than 250 acres of undeveloped property to businessman Henry Luken to avoid violating Senate rules on conflict of interest.

But Berke's naysayers -- and Chattanooga conspiracy theorists -- can't have it both ways. You can't say the rich ignore the poor and middle-class and then say the rich can't help the poor and middle-class by putting their own investment money in poor and mediocre properties.

As for the smear on Andy Berke?

Well, Mr. Berke, you can't have it both ways either. You should have gotten in front of this first.

Instead of having a no-specifics campaign, perhaps you should have said the city needs to take on gangs and crime and blight, and I can use the example of some properties owned by my father and his brother bought years ago with a vision toward improvements. Together with public money for streetscapes, sidewalks and public art, those investments can bring the city a new tomorrow ...

Instead, Berke's official statement, made by email, was even more distancing: "As mayor," Berke would "ensure that there is a conflicts of interest policy for the mayor and also for other government employees. ... Citizens should trust that decisions are being made in their best interests, and we will work to ensure that there is not even the appearance of impropriety."

Citizens don't trust. It's a shame, but true, that Chattanooga has to be so small it can't think beyond the hide-and-seek of political baloney.

But it's also a shame Chattanoogans seem to have so little access into Berke's head: except through the window of his father's and uncles' investments made in the 1970s. Investment four decades ago would hardly seem to have been made with an eye toward today's new beginnings on Glass Street or Andy Berke's mayoral aspirations.

Berke has less than two weeks before the Choo Choo city election to get his train back on the tracks and in the station.

And voters still have time to put their reasoning caps on.