NASHVILLE — Rumblings to the contrary, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says he fully intends to serve out the remaining three years in his current term.
And, the Republican mayor said Monday, if "God blesses me with good health" and he retains the requisite "fire in the belly" he "absolutely" could offer himself up to voters again in 2022.
"And that's where I am right now. I've still got fire in the belly," Coppinger said in a Times Free Press interview Monday.
The Times Free Press contacted the mayor, who was easily reelected in 2018 to a third term, amid talk in county GOP political circles that he would not serve out the remaining years of his four-year term.
Last weekend, that led to Coppinger to tell an audience at a Soddy-Daisy firehall breakfast that he was not stepping down.
Coppinger said he's "not going anywhere. You know, people that want to run always try to flush out and see what you're going to do."
On whether he would run for a fourth term in 2022, Coppinger noted, "the people make the decisions as to who's going to serve. I've been very fortunate that people have shown that confidence."
"Certainly, if I feel this way in the future I'm going to continue — and again, this position doesn't belong to myself. It belongs to the people."
Among those at the weekend Soddy-Daisy breakfast was state Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson.
"He said he was not retiring and the early announcement of his demise was very premature," said Smith, whose own name was floated on a local website as a 2022 mayoral possibility if Coppinger didn't seek reelection.
As for her own plans, Smith, a freshman and former state GOP party chairwoman up for reelection in 2020 to a second two-year House term, said, "I'm not looking at doing anything outside of running for reelection.
"As a matter of fact, I'm working today to put together a fundraiser for my election campaign to state House," Smith said.
She also swatted down talk she might run for Chattanooga mayor in 2021 with term-limited Mayor Andy Berke leaving office. She doesn't even live in Chattanooga, Smith pointed out. And she emphasized that she and her husband have no intention of moving into the city.
Coppinger, meanwhile, said, "things are going extremely well in Hamilton County. I'm very blessed to have very good health, and I have the same energy I did when I walked in here."
In 2011, Coppinger, the then-Hamilton County Commission chairman, was named by fellow commissioners to replace departing Mayor Claude Ramsey, who left to serve in the administration of then-Gov. Bill Haslam as his top deputy.
The following year, Coppinger was elected to fill out the remainder of the term of Ramsey, who died last year. He handily won reelection to a full four-year term in 2014 and again in 2018.
While he's largely enjoyed success, Coppinger suffered a setback in June when the Republican-controlled commission narrowly voted down a proposed property tax increase for county schools.
Noting there's a lot of talk about potential candidates running to succeed Berke as Chattanooga mayor, Coppinger said "there's always people who want to be mentioned in the press about running for different offices."
He said he feels "extremely fortunate to serve as long as I have. I want to continue to be productive and to see this county continue to move forward in the way that we have."
While that doesn't mean "people always agree with what you do," Coppinger said, "I think given the record that we've had over the past nine years I would hope that people would have enough confidence to know we're going to continue to do what we think's best in terms of economic development, training, jobs and public education and to be able to enhance the quality of life for the people here in this county."
He said "I look forward to continue these next three years, and I hope God blesses me with good health. And when we get toward that last eight or nine months of the term, then hopefully I'm where I am right now today and we continue to put our name on the ballot and let the people decide on who they want — to continue the success of this county."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.