When a media report detailing Chattanooga Councilwoman-Elect Demetrus Coonrod's past run-ins with the law was posted on Wednesday afternoon, she was less than 24 hours removed from her remarkable victory over longtime Councilman Yusuf Hakeem.
I'll admit that in digesting the report, it was more than a little jarring to read the stark details of her turn-of-the-century misdeeds in language that was lifted right out of a case file. By the time I had consumed it twice, I was satisfied that even though the story had been colored-in a little more than before, I hadn't learned anything new. And, importantly, neither had the voters of District 9.
I should know. I was her opponent until she vanquished my candidacy by 109 votes in the city primary.
For two long months, I campaigned hard against Coonrod and Hakeem. Our respective trails crossed at over a dozen community forums, neighborhood meetings, canvassing outings and media events. At every opportunity, she laid her story bare for anyone within earshot: Criminal, convicted felon, prisoner, former prisoner, believer, worker, advocate, organizer, and finally, candidate.
It should be no surprise that Coonrod and I have our disagreements. On policy, belief, and style, there is very little similarity between the two of us. In fact, in the run-off election, I supported Hakeem.
Then, on Tuesday, she won. Hers wasn't a small victory either. After dispatching two candidates in the primary, she had a longtime and revered incumbent all to herself in a race that became uncomfortably contentious. In the end she was elected to represent District 9 by a stunning margin — a hard-earned 233 votes.
Outrage at Wednesday's report should be at the low-blow timing of it, not the content. Anyone paying attention to the District 9 race, probably the highest-profile contest of this cycle, would be well-aware of Coonrod's story.
In Chattanooga perhaps no community needs more attention, care, and capital investment from city government than the neighborhoods of District 9. High unemployment, violent crime, opportunity gaps, poor housing options, political disconnectedness, and a lack of social mobility were all hot topics in the recent campaign, and remain as serious threats to Chattanooga's overall prospects.
Those issues are very real, and will challenge Coonrod from the moment she's sworn in on Monday. District 9, due to its striking diversity, presents an added political challenge as it includes neighborhoods as disparate as Highland Park, Eastdale, Missionary Ridge, Glenwood and Glass Farms.
In short, District 9 needs Coonrod to succeed, and it won't be easy.
Using stale news to attempt to delegitimize her victory or hinder her politically before she's even taken her seat on the dais is a disservice to a part of our city where getting it right or wrong will have a direct impact on Chattanooga's future.
Personally, I want her to succeed out of admiration for the sheer scale of her accomplishment. Time after time I watched her in front of hundreds of voters describe her low point when she "walked out of federal prison." In this reactionary time that's over-saturated with media and commentary, I like knowing that kind of redemption is still available in America. Councilwoman-Elect Demetrus Coonrod and 700 voters in Chattanooga just proved it. Politics aside, I can't help but be thankful for that.
Regardless of how you feel about the city's new councilwoman or her politics, remember this: The moment you've become too cynical to be inspired by a powerful story of redemption, you may not be very far from needing one of your own.
John Kerns, of Highland Park, is a Chattanooga entrepreneur and president of Preferred Care at Home.