Chattanooga Council Member Coonrod announces 2024 challenge to state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Chattanooga City Council Member Demetrus Coonrod speaks to the audience during an event June 8. She is running for the state House.

Note: This story was updated on Nov. 17 to remove a mistaken reference to attendees at a political fundraiser.

NASHVILLE — Chattanooga City Council Member Demetrus Coonrod says she is challenging state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, in next year's House District 28 Aug. 1 Democratic primary.

"I am," the businesswoman confirmed to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a text last week after being asked about her Oct. 2 filing with the Tennessee Registry of Election that allows her to begin raising campaign cash for her race.

"I'm running with a deep sense of empathy, driven by a heartfelt understanding that many in our community have been marginalized for far too long," Coonrod said during a subsequent phone call Monday. "And my mission is to be a dedicated advocate for those facing disadvantages fostering intergenerational and intragenerational change. And it's time that we create a Tennessee where every individual irrespective feels seen, heard and represented."

It won't be the first time Coonrod and Hakeem have squared off. In 2017, Coonrod defeated Hakeem, a then-incumbent Chattanooga City Council member, as he sought reelection to the District 9 seat he had held for nearly 20 years.

(READ MORE: Both incumbents upset in Chattanooga City Council run offs)

Hakeem told the Times Free Press over the weekend that there has been "talk that she has an interest" in the seat.

"She's more than welcome and free to do it," said Hakeem, who is running again. "I guess I use the term, this is the American way."

Last week, Hakeem, 74, held a fundraiser at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga.

Hakeem, now a three-term legislative incumbent, was first elected to the General Assembly in 2018, succeeding Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Chattanooga Democrat who retired, in a multi-candidate Democratic primary.

(READ MORE: Rep. Hakeem's history bill clears Tennessee House)

House District 28 includes areas around downtown Chattanooga as well as East Chattanooga, Brainerd and Alton Park.

Coonrod, 48, is a former federally convicted felon who won back her voting rights and later wrote a book about her life journey.

Two years ago, she joined Republican Gov. Bill Lee as he signed into law two criminal justice reform bills he championed offering community-based alternatives to incarceration for low-level or nonviolent felons and helping inmates with education and life skills.

During their 2017 runoff City Council campaign, Hakeem charged that Coonrod was "unhinged, a pathological liar and crazy."

(READ MORE: Yusuf Hakeem calls runoff opponent 'unhinged, a pathological liar and crazy')

Following Lee's 2021 bill signing, Coonrod described for the Times Free Press the various troubles she'd gotten into. She recalled becoming pregnant at age 12. Later, she said she got "involved in a group of people, I was on the wrong path in life."

"Throughout my life from juvenile on, I was in and out of the system. I ended up ultimately serving 84 months, which is seven years in a federal prison institute. And it was there that I decided I definitely can't go back to being the same person I was ... I was determined, and I was focused."

She said the conviction resulted from her having loaned her car to a friend who used it to commit a robbery, resulting in a conviction for conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-285-9480.