Tuesday, the city votes for a new mayor. Four candidates have risen to the top, yet strangely, the politician who may most influence the election isn't one of them.
There's one burning question before us:
Will voters go to the polls Tuesday with similar urgency as they did in November?
Four months ago, during a pandemic, we flooded the polls. Trump drove us there. For or against, we responded to his White House with record turnout.
Does that sense of urgency remain?
Are citizens still energized to vote?
Sure, turnout is lower for local, rather than national, elections. As one Chattanoogan told my colleague Jay Greeson, who asked folks about the mayor's race:
"I thought we voted on that in November," he said.
Yet, I believe most voters learned something in November, if not earlier. (Or certainly on Jan. 6.) Our democracy is fragile. Ideas really matter. Character really matters. Citizens really matter.
I believe our body politic has become so infused and bolstered with the stark reminder of its importance that Tuesday turnout will be high, if not abnormally high, even historically so. (Please, let me have my daydream.)
There are sleeping giants throughout this city. Black voters. Hispanic voters. White conservative voters. Young progressive voters.
If any of those collective voters show up en masse on Tuesday, their candidate wins.
Look at Bushtown.
In 2017, when Andy Berke won his second term, there were 1,910 registered voters, yet only 489 voted.
But in November? There were 2,050 registered voters. And 1,264 of them voted.
Look at North Chattanooga. (Precinct 1, specifically.) In 2017, voters cast 558 votes. (Out of 1,834 registered voters.) In November? 1,756 votes cast. (Out of 2,211 registered voters.)
Visit Hamilton County Election Commission's website; precinct after precinct tells the same story.
Know what else we learned from the last four years of politics?
Don't believe everything pollsters tell us.
Two weeks ago, Knoxville-based Spry Strategies released polling from 550 likely voters: Tim Kelly has the lead with 27.9%, followed by Kim White (15.2%), then Wade Hinton (12.2%) and Monty Bruell (8.1%).
On Thursday, a new poll: White had cut the lead; according to Spry, she now has 21.1%.
"Kim White has stormed back," Spry's president Ryan Burrell said in a statement.
Is this a basketball game?
Are you cheering for her?
Spry's polling was paid for by Hamilton Flourishing, a local conservative group. On his company's website, Burrell proclaims Spry as the "premier pollster for Republicans across the South."
White is the most conservative of the candidates. She earned the Free Press endorsement.
Let's get this straight:
A poll conducted by a Republican-favored pollster paid for by conservative money claims the conservative candidate has "stormed back" into the race.
(In May 2020, FiveThirtyEight rated the efficacy of national polling firms. It gave Spry a "B/C" grade while stating that Spry had a "simple average error" of 10.8 — "the difference between the polled result and the actual result" — with a slight "mean-reverted bias" toward Republican candidates.)
Can a woman win City Hall? I hope so. It is time. Past, past, past time.
But can a conservative woman win Chattanooga, a growing metropolitan left-leaning city?
Can Bruell, a Harvard University graduate who grew up in Alton Park, who won the Times endorsement, cobble together enough votes from progressives, business leaders, Baylor School alumni and Black voters?
Will Berke supporters rally around Hinton?
Can anybody beat Kelly?
It's been nearly a year of COVID-19.
Today, something's shifting, loosening. This coming spring feels very different from last spring.
I know more people vaccinated than sick. Grandparents are hugging grandchildren again. There is palpable relief.
As we approach the one-year mark, it is important to remember the stories of what's happened.
This helps us process, grieve, heal.
I'd like to publish a sort of people's history of the pandemic.
Do you know anyone who acted with courage and love during this most difficult time?
Do you have stories of people who helped, encouraged, sacrificed?
Stories of people that need to be honored and remembered?
Please email me your pandemic stories. First names only.
Together, let's tell the stories that need to be told.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at email@example.com.
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