Kelly announces bid for second term as Chattanooga mayor

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly hugs his wife Ginny, before announcing that he will run for a second term.  The campaign announcement was made at The Youth and Family Development Center at 501 W. 12th Street on September 7, 2023.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly hugs his wife Ginny, before announcing that he will run for a second term. The campaign announcement was made at The Youth and Family Development Center at 501 W. 12th Street on September 7, 2023.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly will seek a second and final term in 2025.

"I'd be lying if I stood here and told you that this is easy, or the answers are always obvious," he said in a formal campaign announcement Thursday at 501 W. 12th St.

"Big problems like affordable housing and homelessness, reversing more than a decade worth of disinvestment in our roads and gun crime and even to my total dismay, syncing our traffic lights and getting ordinances rewritten, take time to solve. But when I step back and look at where we were on day one compared to where we are now, I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish in the last two and a half years."

Kelly's announcement comes 18 months before the next city election on March 4, 2025, when the mayor's post and all nine City Council seats will be on the ballot. Candidates for the 2025 city elections can begin picking up paperwork Oct. 21, 2024. The qualifying deadline is Dec. 19, 2024. In Chattanooga, the city charter limits mayors to two consecutive four-year terms.

"I've heard a lot of speculation," Kelly told reporters about the early timing of the announcement. "I think a lot of folks have thought, 'Hey does he need this job? Does he want this job? Is he dedicated to the work?' I wanted to put that to rest, honestly. Both inside the city and outside, I think it's important for people to know that I'm dedicated to seeing all these projects through. It's not a flash in a pan."

Kelly touted a range of accomplishments in his 872 days as mayor, adding he faced a series of challenges entering office in the middle of the pandemic.

"When I took office, City Hall was largely empty," he said. "Our pools and our community centers were shuttered. Our streets were crumbling, our young people were not in school and our economy had stalled. Homelessness was increasing dramatically. The opportunity gaps that I ran to close were getting wider. More concerning, I began hearing reports about closing down fire stations and increased police response times because of staffing shortages."

Kelly said his first budget increased pay for workers, including double-digit percentage pay increases for firefighters and police officers to help plug staffing gaps. He's also committed to investing $40 million over four years into roads, and his administration has so far paved more than 160 miles of roads and 40,000 cracks and potholes, he said.

As part of an agreement with the federal government, the city has completed construction of a storage site that can hold 90 million gallons of overflow wastewater, which Kelly said has stopped the flow of untreated sewage into the Tennessee River and marked a milestone in fixing the city's broken wastewater system.

The building, which was once a youth and family development center, served as a symbolic backdrop for his re-election bid, Kelly said. The building will eventually be torn down to make way for the construction of new affordable housing through the One Westside plan.

"There are many significant themes tied up in this place," Kelly said. "In many ways, it's a metaphor for where I think we are two and a half years into my administration."

City officials intend to conduct one-for-one housing replacements of 629 public housing units at Gateway Tower and College Hill Courts, which is part of 1,783 new housing units planned for the Westside community. That project is tied to the revitalization of 120 acres of riverfront land at The Bend.

"We're going to fundamentally transform this neighborhood for the better, continuing to provide affordable housing for its current residents and bringing additional units online to help meet the affordable housing needs across Chattanooga," Kelly said.

In April 2021, Kelly won a runoff against former River City Co. CEO Kim White, securing nearly 60% of the 26,675 votes cast. Kelly and White proceeded to a runoff after being the two top votegetters during the March 2, 2021, election, topping a field of 15 candidates.

Kelly named former Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger as his campaign treasurer in December 2022. Coppinger served as county mayor for 11 years starting in 2011 before stepping down at the end of his term last year. He was succeeded as Hamilton County mayor by Weston Wamp.

Kelly's June 30 financial disclosure statement shows his campaign had $69,420 on hand. The campaign took in $25,642 between Jan. 16 and June 30, with the largest single donation, $8,300, coming from the Home Builders Association of Greater Chattanooga's political action committee on May 19.

"We've been supportive of the mayor and what his initiatives are," Doug Fisher, the association's director of government affairs, said in a phone call. "As far as we're concerned, he's done a really good job."

Kelly's campaign spent $31,427 during the same time period. That includes $11,900 in January on polling from a San Francisco company, Change Research, and another $10,774 in February with a Nashville political consulting firm, Triumph Strategies.

Multiple elected leaders showed up for the announcement Thursday, including City Council members Carol Berz, Marvene Noel, Isiah Hester, Ken Smith, Demetrus Coonrod and state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga. City Council Chair Raquetta Dotley, of East Lake, was also at the event and said in an interview she supports Kelly's bid for re-election.

Kelly has taken time to develop budgets aiming for an equitable mindset that makes investments into underresourced communities, Dotley said. That includes securing $25 million from the federal government to replace the aging Wilcox Bridge and developing a new comprehensive plan for expanding city parks.

Contact David Floyd at or 423-757-6249.

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