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Times Free Press files / Tim Kelly, left, and Wade Hinton, right, during their campaigns for Chattanooga mayor. Hinton has endorsed Kelly.

Former opponent Wade Hinton endorsed Chattanooga mayoral runoff candidate Tim Kelly on Wednesday, solidifying Kelly's standing with defeated candidates from the general election.

Hinton, former city attorney under Mayor Andy Berke and vice president of equity and inclusion at Unum, came in third among the field of 15 candidates running for Berke's seat in the March 2 general election, falling one spot short of making the runoff.

Now, with less than a week before Kelly and opponent Kim White face off in the runoff on April 13, Hinton is backing Kelly.

"During the course of our campaign, I was honored that thousands of Chattanoogans shared with me their hopes and their dreams about the future of our city. They were concerned, like I was, that longstanding inequities in Chattanooga would continue to lock out too many of our residents from real economic opportunities. They shared my vision to make Chattanooga truly an inclusive and equitable place, one where all the residents know that their voices are heard and their ideas are woven into the fabric of our community's progress," Hinton said at a news conference Wednesday. "While our campaign has ended, I believe that this vision, these hopes and dreams for Chattanooga must live on."

Hinton said that the runoff election is a critical choice for Chattanooga, noting that how the new mayor addresses COVID-19 recovery will have a long-term impact on the existing inequities in the city, which were made worse by the financial fallout of the pandemic.

"We need a leader capable of executing a vision for recovery. And in the process, building a more equitable and inclusive city," Hinton said. "After the general election, I took some time to rest, to spend some time with my family, to reflect on the campaign and to observe how the two remaining candidates engage on some of these issues. I know firsthand the challenge of running for mayor. And it's clear, is clear that both candidates, absolutely love our city.

"However, there is only one candidate that has carried forward a message and a strong commitment to addressing these deep-seated inequities. That is why today, I am supporting Tim Kelly for mayor of Chattanooga," Hinton said. "At this time, I truly believe he is better positioned to address many of the issues we believe will help advance good-paying jobs, equal opportunity and inclusion."

Kelly embraced Hinton's endorsement and promised to pursue their shared vision of equity.

"I really sincerely appreciate the support. From the beginning, this campaign has been about moving toward one Chattanooga," Kelly said. "To me, that means a vision of the city where everyone can thrive and fulfill their full potential together. To get there, we've got to first acknowledge that we aren't living in that city right now."

Kelly said that he will focus on using the nearly $40 million in federal relief funds given to the city to steer more equitable opportunities for all parts of the city.

"The truth is these inequities have persisted for decades. But under my administration, with Wade's help and guidance, we're gonna finally address the root cause of these problems and make the necessary investments to lift all of Chattanooga up for the long-term benefit of our city as a whole," Kelly said, noting his commitment to creating a commission in his first 100 days to ensure investments are used equitably.

"Let me be clear, Chattanooga is coming back. And I mean all of Chattanooga," Kelly said. "We will bring it back together."

Hinton is one of the more than half a dozen former opponents to publicly endorse Kelly in the runoff and accounts for the largest voting group of the defeated candidates, having earned 21.5% or over 6,100 votes in the general election.

White has not received the endorsement of any former candidates but has received notable endorsements from business groups, police unions and some local elected officials.

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

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