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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Independent mayoral candidate Andrew McLaren poses at Bayberry Apartments on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Independent candidate Andrew McLaren is running for mayor of Chattanooga in hopes of bridging community disparities with fruit trees and police pay raises.

McLaren, a former actor and Marine turned private investigator, told the Times Free Press that he is seeking the office to help create equity across communities within the city by thinking outside of the box.

"I think I can unify wealthy people who I might be in a cigar bar smoking with, a judge or a lawyer or someone who owns a golf course, and have them listening to a Tupac album," McLaren, 39, said while smoking a cigar outside of the Bayberry apartments in Avondale where he had been doing outreach. "And then I can bring it back to the community and channel it in a synergistic and positive way."

McLaren said a key issue in his campaign is reaching out to the neighborhoods that need the most "help" in the city, including mentorship programs, economic empowerment classes and other innovative approaches to crime and poverty.

"So one of my ideas that's a little bit outside of the box is I want to plant fruit trees [in low-income neighborhoods]," McLaren said. "We can sell them to people and they get a little plaque. So I might sell one to some rich guy out in Lookout Mountain and say if you pay $1,000, you get a plaque and donate a tree. And it will encourage people to come out here and get food. It's a good way for us to make money and I think some wealthy, benevolent donors would like to help."

In addition to helping folks financially, McLaren says that proactive crime prevention is a big part of improving these neighborhoods, citing teenagers he's met in low-income areas of the city.

"Some of them are 14, 15 years old and they're going to have a baby at 15 or 16 and there's no process for them to go to college. They're stuck in that cycle of poverty, that system and we want to get people out of that," he said, pitching development programs for underprivileged youth. "We want to have a mentorship program and I've talked to cops about having a more proactive police force rather than being reactive, so that we can prevent some of the crime."

To continue his police reform plan, McLaren says he will raise the pay of each police officer by $10,000, which he says will help retention and recruitment while avoiding misconduct.

"The morale here in the [Chattanooga Police Department] is just rock bottom," McLaren explained. "They feel so demoralized, that's why I want to raise the pay."

McLaren also says he will only accept a "rookie cop" salary of $34,000 per year if elected and he would donate the more than $100,000 remaining to childrens' issues.

McLaren was one of the first candidates to announce his bid for mayor back in 2018. Since then, City Councilman Russell Gilbert, activist Christopher Dahl, and local businessmen Tim Kelly and Monty Bruell have officially entered the race for current Mayor Andy Berke's seat, which will be vacated in 2021 after he has served eight years in office.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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