CITY OF CHATTANOOGA ELECTIONS KEY DATES
Candidate Qualifying Deadline: Dec. 15 at 12 p.m.
Candidate Withdrawal Deadline: Dec. 22 at 12 p.m.
Write-In Candidate Certification Deadline: Jan. 16
Early Voting Period: Feb. 15-March 2
Election Day: March 7
For more information, contact the Hamilton County Election Commission at 423-493-5100 or visit their website at elect.hamiltontn.gov
Chattanoogans could see as many as 28 candidates between the city's mayoral and council races on the March 7 ballot.
That's how many people have already picked up candidate papers, according to the Hamilton County Election Commission. With three weeks to go until the Dec. 15 qualification deadline, just over half of them have already qualified. In 2013, 25 candidates made the Chattanooga ballot.
Larry Grohn, now the District 4 councilman, launched his mayoral campaign at the end of August, seeking to derail Mayor Andy Berke's re-election bid. David Crockett, a three-time former city councilman, and Chris Long hope to turn the election into a four-way race.
Grohn jumped in early and hard, challenging Berke on the city's crime figures on at least two occasions.
"An entire generation of our city is in desperate need of education, opportunity, and hope," Grohn said in a recent statement decrying increased rates of violence against women. In September, the Times Free Press reported 2016 marked the highest number of Chattanooga women killed since 2011, including more involved in gang-related homicides.
Grohn also claimed the Violence Reduction Initiative, Berke's signature program to reduce gang violence, has actually made crime worse. VRI calls for a two-pronged approach, combining the efforts of police, prosecutors and social service groups to offer gang members a choice: stop shooting and accept help to move away from gang life or face tough consequences.
The Berke campaign recently responded to Grohn's claims. "At a time when our community should be coming together to ensure each person in our city feels safe, Mayor Andy Berke is focused on ensuring the city works together with law enforcement and our community to heal and move forward," Tyler Yount, Berke's campaign manager, said in an email.
"One of our opponents is focused on using misleading claims to divide us, but the reality is Mayor Berke has spent the past four years changing the way our police department works with the community, reducing robberies and property crimes to an all-time low, and protecting women from domestic violence."
The campaign looks forward to sharing Berke's vision for building "on this progress to ensure every person in our city feels safe," Yount said.
Responding to Grohn's VRI claims in early November, police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal agreed shootings were up. However, violent and property crime actually were down last year due to "robust and comprehensive" efforts, she said. Myzal described Grohn's math as flawed.
CITY COUNCIL RACES
Most of the Chattanooga City Council seats are contested. Grohn isn't seeking re-election, but all the other incumbents have picked up papers and about half have already qualified.
Grohn and Councilman Chip Henderson have indicated the upcoming elections have influenced the council's stance on recent controversial issues.
In late October, the council shot down proposed changes to the city's rules governing short-stay vacation rentals after grappling with the ordinance and concerned neighborhood associations for two months.
Henderson called the vote unexpected and "a little short-sighted on the council's part," saying the matter likely will come back before the council after the elections.
"It's not going away," Henderson said. "It's something we're going to have to deal with at some point in time."
Grohn credited the election cycle for complicating passage of an ordinance intended to get the City Charter in line with state law governing alcohol sales in movie theaters.
In October, he described the proposed charter amendment as a "Band-Aid" and asked for a three-week deferral so the city attorney's office could revise it.
The council later passed a simplified version of the legislation. Grohn said the delay had nothing to do with messy wording.
"It was only messy because they [the City Council] didn't want to go into an election season voting 'yes' for beer," Grohn said.
Council members have defended their concerns and voting records on both issues; none cited the upcoming elections as the reason for their positions.
Councilman Chip Henderson has announced his re-election campaign. Two challengers have picked up qualifying papers: Susan Miller and Jay Nevans. Miller qualified in early October.
District 1 encompasses Lookout Valley, Moccasin Bend, Mountain Creek and portions of Hixson and North Chattanooga.
Councilman Jerry Mitchell announced his re-election bid in mid-October, a few weeks after qualifying. Mickey McCamish is the only challenger to pick up qualifying papers to date.
District 2 extends from the North Shore to Northgate, including the precincts of Lupton City, Riverview and Stuart Heights.
Councilman Ken Smith remains unchallenged so far in his re-election bid for the District 3 seat.
District 3 includes Dupont and portions of Hixson and Murray Hills.
Darrin Ledford is the sole contender for District 4. Grohn currently holds the seat.
District 4 represents Concord, East Brainerd and Summit.
Councilman Russell Gilbert, who ran unopposed in 2009 and 2013, faces challenger Jeffrey E. Evans.
District 5 includes precincts within Bonny Oaks, Dalewood, Eastgate, Kingspoint, Lake Hills and Woodmore.
Councilwoman Carol Berz may face challenger Robert Wilson, who has not yet qualified. Berz defeated incumbent Marti Rutherford in 2009 and ran unopposed in 2013.
District 6 represents Brainerd, Brainerd Hills, Concord and portions of Harrison, Ooltewah and Tyner.
Four candidates, including incumbent Chris Anderson, have picked up qualifying papers. Challengers include Manny Rico, who lost to Anderson in the 2013 election; Erskine Oglesby, and Montrell Besley. Oglesby and Rico qualified before the end of September.
District 7 represents precincts in Alton Park, East Lake, St. Elmo and downtown.
Councilman Moses Freeman, along with challengers Patrick Kellog and Anthony Byrd, have picked up papers. Byrd qualified on Oct. 4.
District 8 incorporates portions of Eastside, Amnicola, Avondale and Bushtown.
District 9 represents East Chattanooga, Eastdale, Glenwood, Missionary Ridge and Ridgedale.
Early voting in the city election is Feb. 15 to March 2. The commission has not posted early voting hours and locations on its website yet.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfree press.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.