Berke wins in a walk

Berke wins in a walk

March 6th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Alizia Worsham votes Tuesday at the Bethlehem Center.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga's new mayor Andy Berke and the city's five newest council members received majority votes Tuesday, but hardly a broadbased mandate.

Just over 16 percent of city's 111,324 registered voters thought it important enough to even mark a ballot Tuesday.

It's a sure bet, however, that when the first couple of controversies arise on the council -- sewer rates, tax talk, zoning measures -- four or five times that number of city residents will raise their hands and voices to complain.

So, city voters, please tear this editorial out of the newspaper and stick it on your refrigerator door for that day as a reminder.

In an election to find a government to help Chattanooga be progressive and hold its place in an ever-growing global competition for jobs and quality of life, exactly 18,194 voters in a city of 170,136 people opted in for a say.

On the up side, Berke, long held as the only viable candidate -- and the best candidate -- was the big winner with more than 72 percent of vote. Chattanooga needs his energy and vision, as well as his experience as a senator in the Tennessee General Assembly.

New council members include builder and developer Chip Henderson, former city administrator Jerry Mitchell, Johnson Group information officer Ken Smith, Bluff View Arts District director of food and beverage services Chris Anderson and former city administrator Moses Freeman.

But the low turnout and a crowded field pushed favorite Jack Benson into a District 4 runoff with tea party candidate Larry Grohn. With 34 percent of the vote, Benson now faces the potential pooling of support from the four who sought to unseat him.

In District 9, six votes divided incumbent Peter Murphy and former council member Yusuf Hakeem, the only two candidates in that race. Each got just over 1,000 votes and neither received the magic 50 percent-plus-1 to become the instant winner, so these two also face a runoff (assuming provisional ballots to be counted in coming days don't change the outcome).

Incumbents Carol Berz and Russell Gilbert Sr. were unopposed. Gilbert received 50 opposition write-in votes, and Berz garnered 57.

That brings the conversation back to the pathetic voter turnout.

Some local politicians have advocated moving city elections to coincide with state and federal primaries, but the bottom line is that 84 percent of Chattanooga's registered voters simply didn't care enough to decide to give up the 15 or 30 minutes it would take to drive to a polling place and vote.

So if you are one of those, or if your grown son or daughter didn't vote, or your neighbor, pin this page up. Not as a reminder that you shouldn't complain. On the contrary. Here's hoping you will at some point get your hackles up enough about something to get involved.

It's your city.