Black community leaders are beginning to rally behind Tim Kelly in his mayoral runoff campaign against Kim White, after third-place finisher Wade Hinton was defeated in the general election.
Chattanooga's Black community, which makes up about 40% of the city's population, largely supported Hinton in the March 2 city election, during which 15 candidates duked it out in an attempt to become the city's next mayor.
The crowded election included seven Black candidates — including third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers, any of whom could have become the city's first Black mayor. Instead,White and Kelly, both white, led the pack and advanced to a runoff election, eliminating the rest from contention.
"A lot of people supported [Hinton] but then he lost. And now, there's a lot of people having to make a second choice," Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey said on Tuesday. "It just shows what I truly believe, which is the Black community really could elect, and I would love to see, a Black person to be mayor of Chattanooga.
"We just have to get on the same page, and with six Black people in the race already, I knew we wouldn't get on board to elect [Hinton]."
Mackey, who originally backed Kim White for her business and job recruiting chops, said that with Hinton out after winning 20 precincts in the city's election, his constituents are having to rally behind a new candidate.
And that candidate is Kelly, he said.
"I ultimately do what my constituents tell me to do, and with that, I am absolutely backing Mr. Kelly, because they have come to overwhelmingly support him," Mackey said Tuesday, after several conversations with Kelly. "Mr. Kelly has begun to fill in the blanks, and I am comfortable with the message he delivers, as are most of my constituents."
In addition to Mackey, many other Black community leaders are beginning to rally behind Kelly, including those who once backed Hinton.
A group of Chattanooga's Black pastors endorsed Kelly on Tuesday after meeting with both candidates to discuss an agenda of inclusion and equity for the new mayor.
Clergy group agenda
The agenda presented to candidates from the clergy group called for the new mayor to:
• Create a participatory budget process for the upcoming fiscal year.
• Create job readiness training, meaning teaching soft skills, interviewing skills and connecting individuals with employment opportunities with possible employers.
• Intentionally recruit and hire an African American chief of police and a deputy chief of staff by December 2021.
• Create a special task force to identify key strategies to prevent and eliminate gang violence in Chattanooga. Task force should include former felons and members of the Chattanooga community.
• Partner with Youth and Families Development Centers and faith-based facilities to implement the following:
- After school Tutoring
- Parenting skills training, financial training that includes money managing, investments, credit, management, credit recovery, etc. Program should be incentivized for completion.
- Early-Childhood Education Programs
• Promote partnerships with minority and majority business owners to increase development and business opportunities for minorities, i.e., development, contracts, construction, suppliers, housing, excess land/building, and services.
• Lead and create conversations for the private sector businesses to create opportunities for minorities to do business with them. Ensure this is part of any incentives package given to businesses.
• Allocate monies for senior citizens to stay in their homes and make necessary repairs, which will ensure home values remain strong in the inner city and wealth is transferred to other generations.
• Hire minorities in senior level cabinet positions and facilitate placement on boards and commissions. Cabinet should reflect the diversity of the Chattanooga community. With this in mind, 40% of cabinet should be men and women of color.
• Create an Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. This office will combine power of government, private, and non-profit partners to dismantle systemic inequities and barriers to opportunity due to ethnicity, gender and religion. The department should work to create equity and inclusion among employees, infrastructure, and services.
(Neither candidate committed to adopt this full agenda.)
"We were a group that was very involved in the Wade Hinton campaign. We, to a degree, stuck our necks out there for him and pushed for him, and obviously at the end of the day, Mr. Hinton came in third. So we thought it necessary and the best interest of the community and the city as a whole to meet with the two remaining candidates that are going to be in the runoff," the Rev. Ernest Reid of Second Missionary Baptist Church said Tuesday.
"And in light of that, we sat down with them, understanding that we desire a city that is inclusive for all and that represents the interests of all," Reid continued. "And after hearing both candidates, explaining our concerns and listening to the finer points of their platforms, we believe that Mr. Kelly is the candidate that will be more inclusive for all for the city of Chattanooga."
The group — which included Reid, the Rev. Gary Hathaway, the Rev. Bobby Hampton Sr., the Rev. Ternae Jordan Sr., the Rev. William T. Ladd III, James Moreland, the Rev. Carlos Williams, the Rev. Charlotte Williams, the Rev. Jeffery T. Wilson — said Kelly not only committed to meeting and working with the community if elected, but seemed the most transparent and most amenable to their requests for policy and hiring changes to promote equity.
Moreover, the Rev. Charlotte Williams said, Kelly offered a sense of healing.
"For me personally, I think what sets him apart from her, is that as pastors, we sit with the cries and the hurt of our people on a continuous basis. So we carry that with us. That's something that we are in close proximity to," she said. "So we need a candidate that, at this particular point, can bring some type of solution and some type of healing for all of Chattanooga, especially those in our community."
Williams also said Kelly has acknowledged his own privilege as a white man, and that knowledge would aid in "bringing both Chattanoogas together."
As such, Jordan said the group will back Kelly with the "zeal and zest" they brought to the Hinton campaign.
Kelly said Tuesday that the group's endorsement drives home his commitment to representing all of Chattanooga.
"I am honored and humbled to have the support of this coalition of key community faith leaders. This important endorsement reflects our commitment to opportunity for every Chattanoogan, regardless of race or ZIP code," Kelly said in a written statement Tuesday. "With just six days from election day to taking office, I am proud to be the only candidate with a clear plan for guiding our city out of this pandemic and jumpstarting our local economy. I look forward to working with pastors and faith leaders to bring people together, revitalize our community, and keep our city safe."
When asked about the endorsements, a spokesperson for White referred back to a statement she made last week, noting her own momentum.
"The support of our campaign continues to build as we approach April 13. Since launching my Ready On Day One Playbook focused on creating jobs, affordable housing and better roads, we've reached many new supporters who believe my vision for our city will create a better Chattanooga for all," White said in the earlier statement.
In the two weeks since the general election, nearly every Black elected official in Hamilton County — including state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, Hamilton County Commissioners Katherlyn Geter and Mackey, Hamilton County Board of Education Member Karitsa Mosley Jones, Chattanooga City Council members Demetrus Coonrod and Russell Gilbert, and Councilwoman Elect Raquetta Dotley — has endorsed Kelly.
Councilman Gilbert, activist Monty Bruell and activist Dr. Elenora Woods, each a former opponent of Kelly's, have also rallied behind him, encouraging their supporters to back him in the runoff.
"Tim Kelly stated that he will invite neighborhood leaders and key stakeholders to the table for strategic planning sessions. This act alone is noteworthy, commendable and what Chattanooga needs," Woods wrote in an email before announcing her support on Monday. "If voters are serious about bringing Chattanooga, two cities apart, together as one, and having input about decisions made in their community, the decision to endorse Tim Kelly as the best choice for Chattanooga mayor hands down, is the best choice!"
Hinton told the Times Free Press on Tuesday that he had not made a decision on endorsing one of his former opponents.
"Our campaign was never about me. It was about lifting up the voices of the many Chattanoogans that want so much more for our city," Hinton wrote. "While I have not made a decision about endorsing a candidate, in the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the policy positions many of our supporters will look for in the next mayor."
But for Mackey, no matter who someone supported in the general, it is paramount that they get out and vote in the April 13 runoff.
"Even if there's no Black candidate or your first choice is gone, you still have something to lose and something to gain in the election," he said. "So if you want to have a voice and have it heard, you'll still vote."