Chattanooga City Council District 9 runoff race barbs continue to fly

Councilman Yusuf Hakeem talks with friends Tuesday, March 7, 2017 in the Victorian Lounge of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
photo District 9 incumbent Yusuf Hakeem speaks about his platform on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.
photo City council candidate Demetrus Coonrod is photographed Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Chattanooga City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem came under steady fire Monday after comments he has made about Demetrus Coonrod, his opponent in the Council District 9 runoff race.

Hakeem and Coonrod received the most and second-most votes, respectively, out of a field of four candidates in the March 7 election. Since neither achieved a majority of the district's votes, they have to battle it out one more time in the April 11 runoff election. Early voting ends Thursday.

On Sunday, things took a personal turn on a radio show when Hakeem labeled Coonrod as "unhinged, a pathological liar and crazy."

Coonrod, who addressed Hakeem's remarks during a candidate forum Sunday hosted by Citizens Concerned for Justice and the Unity Group of Chattanooga, released a follow-up statement Monday. Hakeem, who described the forum as a "setup," did not attend.

"Unfortunately, this is not the first time women in politics have come under attack by their male opponents who seem intimidated by strong and vocal women," she said, comparing Hakeem's behavior to that of President Donald Trump and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. "Marginalizing women is not the norm and should never be tolerated in Chattanooga or anywhere."

Coonrod said Hakeem's actions were a "clear indication" he is desperately clinging to a seat he barely won in 2013, when he edged out incumbent Peter Murphy by six votes.

She urged voters to focus on community issues such as building infrastructure, keeping youth out of gangs and creating a fairer economy instead of "petty name-calling."

Hakeem countered that he based his accusations on facts and her past behavior in a phone interview.

"I feel that is unfortunate for her to try to use the plight of women in a political setting," Hakeem said of Coonrod's statement. "I do not see her representing women in the manner in which she infers or implies. In my opinion, she has not gone beyond her history and, as a result, is a neophyte politically."

"My record and my lifestyle has been an open book," Coonrod said during the forum. "I don't have any secrets or anything that I have to hide from anybody in my district."

When she asserted she was not crazy, unhinged or a pathological liar, she stood by her record of being up front with the community about her criminal history.

"I am a convicted felon - a restored convicted felon," Coonrod said.

Coonrod pleaded guilty to and was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit robbery and two counts of armed robbery in 2003, according to court records. Records show she received an 84-month sentence, followed by three years of supervised release.

Coonrod's statement Monday came a few hours after local Nation of Islam leader Kevin Muhammad issued an open letter calling on Hakeem to "atone and both publicly and personally apologize to our Sister, Demetrus Coonrod."

Muhammad said the matter was "about family, our Black Family," and transcended politics and winning a city council seat.

"As a man, husband, father, uncle, brother and mentor like yourself, I am deeply troubled, disappointed, disturbed, saddened and hurt that you would openly disrespect our young Black Sister in such a mean-spirited, defaming, reckless and arrogant manner," he wrote.

Hakeem said he questioned whether Muhammad had he community's best interest at heart and rebuffed claims he did not respect women, citing his relationships with the women in his family and his campaign. He said he didn't think Muhammad's comments truly merited a response.

"I have been in political office or appointed office for the last 40 years," Hakeem said. "During that time, Mr. Muhammad has never been a supporter of mine."

On Sunday evening, Hakeem said he made his remarks in response to Coonrod flip-flopping on statements she has made about him, describing him as a friend and mentor, but later denying it. She also has called him a "sellout" without explaining what she means, he said.

If he had been given more time to respond during the radio show, he would chosen other words to describe Coonrod's behavior, Hakeem said. However, those different words would have had the same meaning, he said.

Hakeem also claimed a Coonrod acquaintance has falsely attacked him on Facebook, claiming he has removed his opponent's campaign signs.

"Nothing he says is true," Coonrod said Monday.

In an email separate from her released statement, Coonrod said she does not have any ill feelings toward Hakeem and will always respect him.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.