Challengers crank up additional votes in Chattanooga City Council runoffs

Campaign manager Dalton Temple smiles as election results for his candidate Erskine Oglesby, right, roll in at the Alton Park headquarters. Erskine Oglesby won the runoff election from District 7 on April 11, 2017. / Staff file photo
photo Chris Anderson, right, looks over election results with his campaign manager Billy Joyner at the Comedy Catch in the Choo-Choo. Erskine Oglesby won the runoff election from District 7 on April 11, 2017.

Despite winning the most votes in three- and four-way contests in the March 7 election, incumbents Chris Anderson and Yusuf Hakeem ultimately failed to secure their seats on the Chattanooga City Council when it came down to Tuesday's runoffs.

Neither Anderson nor Hakeem, who hold the District 7 and District 9 seats, respectively, scored the required majority of votes in the general municipal election to win outright, forcing them to square off against runners-up Erskine Oglesby and Demetrus Coonrod. The victorious challengers officially take those seats Monday.

Unofficial results of the runoff show Coonrod took nearly 60 percent of the votes cast in District 9, which includes East Chattanooga, Eastdale, Glenwood, Missionary Ridge and Ridgedale. She earned 700 votes to Hakeem's 467.

"I didn't get my people out to the polls," Hakeem said of his loss Tuesday night.

The long-serving councilman fell far short of the 954 votes he received in the March 7 election, while Coonrod actually added another 100 votes to the 600 votes she earned in the March contest.

Coonrod has said she believed she could beat Hakeem if she could just make it into a runoff with him.

Terry Lee, former chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, credited Coonrod with aggressive voter engagement efforts. Those efforts brought a number of first-time voters to the March 7 city election, he said.

Coonrod won the most votes in every District 9 precinct in the runoff, whereas Hakeem had readily outpaced her in the March 7 election, when faced with three opponents.

She solidified her hold on Eastdale, taking 279 runoff votes to Hakeem's 138. While vote numbers fell for both candidates in the precinct, Hakeem fell harder, having received 363 votes to Coonrod's 305 in the general election.

While Hakeem readily carried the East Chattanooga and Glenwood precincts in March, Coonrod edged him out the second time around.

She also grabbed the Missionary Ridge and Ridgedale precincts, dominated by candidate John Kerns in the general election. In the runoff, those precincts generated fewer than half of the 786 votes cast in the March 7 contest. She more than tripled the 30 votes she received in Missionary Ridge in the general election.

Each runoff vote received by Coonrod or Hakeem also counted for a larger portion of the pie. Including two write-in votes, the District 9 runoff tallied 1,169 votes, compared to the 2,307 cast in the March 7 election. There are 9,693 registered voters in the district, according to election office records.

Voter turnout did not shrink as much in the District 7 runoff, where voters cast 1,372 ballots compared to the 1,701 they cast in the general election. Records show 9,086 registered voters for the district.

Anderson received 628 votes to Oglesby's 740 in the runoff for the district, which encompasses the Alton Park, Downtown, East Lake and St. Elmo precincts.

Voter data reveals a similar dynamic to the District 9 upset, with Oglesby actually bringing in 110 more votes than the 630 he earned in the general election and Anderson dropping 22 percent from his general election high-water mark of 811 votes.

Anderson could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he previously attributed his general election near-miss to supporters who thought he had the election in the bag and simply did not turn out to vote.

Oglesby hit Anderson especially hard in St. Elmo, even if he didn't win the precinct. Anderson held a 2-1 margin over Oglesby in the precinct in the general election, with 296 votes to Oglesby's 143. In the runoff, Anderson's count fell to 274 votes, while Oglesby picked up 239.

St. Elmo also earned the distinction of actually increasing voter turnout in the runoff, with 513 ballots cast to the 505 cast in the general election.

Oglesby improved his margins in all precincts, going from a 3-2 lead in the Alton Park precincts, combined, to a 2-1 advantage in the runoff. He trimmed Anderson's 3-2 advantage in the Downtown precincts to an even heat and took the lion's share of the East Lake vote.

Oglesby could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Without rigorous research and analysis, it is difficult to determine exactly why the challengers increased their vote numbers in the runoff, Amanda Wintersieck, assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said in an email.

"However, it is well established that competitive races and races that get more media coverage have great voter turnout," Wintersieck said. "The increased turnout could be a result of the media following these runoff elections more, or voters may feel that the election is more competitive and that their vote matters more."

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