The "Tim and Kim" runoff for Chattanooga mayor that had been expected for months has come to fruition after Tuesday's municipal election that saw just shy of 25% of the electorate go to the polls.
What had not been expected, after several polls and weeks of speculation, was how close the race between top finisher Tim Kelly and runner-up Kim White would be. Only 273 votes, less than one percentage point, separated the two, who now move on to an April 13 showdown.
Spry Strategies polls sponsored by the local Hamilton Flourishing organization gave Kelly leads over White of 6.3% in January and 12.7% in February, but both candidates wound up with about 30% of the vote.
Third-place finisher Wade Hinton, a former city attorney and Unum executive, earned 21.5%, up from 12.2% in the February Spry poll. Fourth-place finisher Monty Bruell, a businessman and entrepreneur, collected 8.5%, almost the same as his 8.1% support in the February poll.
The 15-person field that also included two sitting Chattanooga City Council members and the former local NAACP president almost guaranteed no one would earn the 50% (plus one vote) needed to avoid a runoff.
The 24.9% voter turnout was disappointing but was higher than the 18.1%, 16.4% and 19.7% turnouts for municipal elections in 2009, 2013 and 2017, respectively. And it came nowhere close to the 73.1% turnout across Hamilton County for November's presidential election.
Both Kelly, a wealthy former car dealer and businessman, and White, a former downtown redevelopment nonprofit CEO, in addresses before their supporters Tuesday night, urged those who didn't vote for them to come over to their side in their runoff. For Kelly's part, fourth-place Bruell said he would.
White, if elected, would be the first woman to be Chattanooga mayor. The last time a Chattanooga mayor's race went to a runoff, 2005, a woman, Ann Coulter, led the field going into the final sprint. But the second-place finisher, Councilman Ron Littlefield, went on to the win and served two terms as mayor. White likely hopes the latter scenario will work in her favor.
She may be able to claim some momentum, too. A post on her campaign's Facebook site indicated she topped all mayoral candidates by more than 400 votes in ballots cast on Election Day, likely meaning late-deciding voters broke her way.
We endorse her runoff election as we did her candidacy in Tuesday's race. We feel her work with the public and private sectors, with both governments and nonprofits, give her the edge over Kelly.
Kelly and White will share their runoff with candidates in council Districts 2 and 5, where open seats offered opportunities.
In District 2, vote-leader Jenny Hill finished slightly less than five percentage points shy of avoiding a runoff for the seat held by the retiring Jerry Mitchell. A current Hamilton County Board of Education member, she has said she would keep her school board job if elected to the council. She is opposed by businessman Thomas Lee, who garnered 34.1% of the vote in a three-person race.
We supported Hill in her school board race but opted for Lee in Tuesday's election because we believe it would be too difficult for anyone to give the due diligence needed to both high profile jobs while holding down a regular job. We also like Lee's vision for the city and for his district, which includes the high-profile North Shore area.
In District 5, Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Dennis Clark led the five-person field to replace current Councilman Russell Gilbert, who opted to run for mayor. Clark finished 120 votes ahead of minister/entrepreneur Isiah Hester, Clark with 35% of the vote and Hester with 31%.
We endorsed Clark in Tuesday's race because of his varied background and experience in local politics, though the two candidates are not likely to vary much in their council votes.
The biggest surprise of Election Day was Raquetta Dotley's relatively easy win over Ken Hays in District 7, where one-term Councilman Erskine Oglesby chose to run for mayor. Hays was the former chief of staff to former Mayor Jon Kinsey and had both federal and local experience in city government.
Dotley is the executive director at The Net Resource Foundation, administrator at Westside Missionary Baptist Church and secretary of Servant Leadership Christian Fellowship. She also is secretary of the Alton Park/Piney Woods Neighborhood Association and previously worked in a voter empowerment group in the area.
In the end, her experience within the district, as opposed to Hays' general government experience, likely made the difference in the race.
Dotley will become not only the first Black woman councilwoman from the district but the seventh different person to hold the seat — more than any other district — since the city first changed its government in 1990.
Now, we urge Chattanoogans to exceed their turnout in Tuesday's race and make sure those elected in the April runoff are truly representative of their constituents.
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