Both of Chattanooga's mayoral candidates have long voting and donation histories, centering largely around moderate Republicans. Both say they want to remove themselves from partisan politics.
Mayoral candidates Tim Kelly and Kim White are competing in a runoff election on April 13 for the nonpartisan seat being vacated by two-term Mayor Andy Berke — a former Democratic state senator.
While both Kelly and White have distanced themselves from partisan politics throughout the campaign, both have decades-long histories of backing politicians and interest groups, which help paint a picture of their respective ideologies.
The partisan background of the candidates is not an official part of the campaign, but has crept in around the edges of the contest and may be a factor for some voters assessing the two candidates.
According to records from the Hamilton County Election Commission, Kelly has voted in 34 local, state and federal elections since 1992, including eight Republican primaries and one Democratic primary — in the 2020 presidential race.
Kelly's donations to politicians follow a similar pattern, according to the Federal Election Commission, with donations to Republicans including 2016 presidential candidate John Kasich, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Ooltewah and former Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, along with a 2017 donation to the Tennessee Republican Party Federal Election Account.
More recently, Kelly has donated to Democrats, backing Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and then President Joe Biden during the general election. Kelly also donated twice during the 2020 election cycle to ActBlue, a nonprofit fundraising platform for Democratic candidates.
Asked about his affiliation, Kelly echoed his repeated sentiment that he does not support any kind of partisanship in local elections.
"I take the nonpartisan nature of local races very seriously, and I don't think they come with an asterisk, or a wink and a nod towards either party," he wrote in an emailed statement Monday. "Chattanooga's extraordinary history of collaborative partnership relies on our ability to focus on local issues and set aside the division that characterizes national politics."
On his personal beliefs, Kelly again avoided claiming a party and said he has backed candidates from both major parties, attributing his apparent shift toward the Democratic Party to his discontent with Donald Trump.
"I've supported sensible candidates from both sides of the aisle in the past, from Phil Bredesen to Bill Haslam. As a general rule, I vote for the person rather than the party because I place a very high premium on quality leadership and integrity," Kelly said. "That's why I voted against Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020."
Kelly has been consistent about this since the day he announced his campaign, saying several times that his "party is Chattanooga."
"As a Chattanoogan first and foremost, I believe that localism is the antidote to the divisive party politics we've seen in Washington," he added. "Chattanooga works best when we are all working together for our common benefit."
White similarly has a history of Republican voting, participating in 34 elections while registered in the county, including 13 Republican primaries and one Hamilton County Democratic primary, in 2006. Her donations have been more consistently Republican.
She donated consistently to Republicans including Corker, her former boss, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and 2016 presidential primary candidate Carly Fiorina. She has not made any contributions to Democratic candidates or PACs, according to FEC records.
Asked about White's party affiliation, Campaign Manager Amy Donahue said White also wants to stay away from "divisive" bipartisan politics.
"Since her announcement in September, Kim has stated she views being mayor as civic leadership, not through the lens of divisive party politics. Kim is committed to representing Chattanooga as a nonpartisan mayor," Donahue wrote Tuesday. "The policies outlined in Kim's Ready On Day One Playbook are a result of her conversations with every neighborhood and walk of life in the city — not the one-size-fits-all approach of a single political party.
"Local office should be defined by local issues and opportunities, not a political party. Kim remains committed to putting Chattanooga and the needs of its people above political boundaries," she added.
In an interview last week, White told the Times Free Press that she is not a "right-wing" Republican, despite some feedback she's heard while campaigning.
"They try to make me into a right-wing Republican. And I'm not. I've never gotten involved in national politics, ever, ever," White said. "I've always looked at this as civic leadership. I'm not interested in another public office. I'm not running to be a Republican, or whatever. It's always about how we solve problems. I've never asked about what someone's party affiliation is. In fact, I have more close friends that identify with Democrats than I do Republicans."