Retiring state Rep. Jo Anne Favors is leaving an open seat in the large and diverse 28th district that covers parts of Brainerd, East Chattanooga, Alton Park, Murray Hills and even North Chattanooga, Red Bank and Harrison.
In a crowded Democratic primary, the retiring Favors successfully endorsed fellow Democrat Yusuf Hakeem, 69, who served as a Chattanooga city councilman six times before he lost a seventh-term bid.
Hakeem, also a former city Board of Education member and state parole board member, touts a "history and track record of working with people of all walks of life." He says education, health care, seat belts on buses, and criminal justice reform are his priorities both for the 28th District and the state. There is little doubt that Hakeem knows politics. The test is whether he can get any cooperation and sway with the dyed-in-red-wool GOP members of the Hamilton County delegation in the Tennessee's General Assembly.
There also is a Republican candidate vying for the seat in District 28 — Lemon Williams, a cyber security and operational risk management professional and consultant. Williams is a graduate of Chattanooga Central High School and a 1996 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1996. His degree is in logistics and transportation.
Williams, 43, says it's wrong to look at the district — where 78 percent of the county's poverty can be found and 86 percent of its crimes are committed — as unwinnable for a Republican. He questions whether voters need someone to "tell you it's raining, or someone who will build an ark. ... We're asking for a protest vote against the status quo."
But Williams does not talk like just another Republican. In fact, he says he's fiscally conservative but socially progressive. He advocates "banning the box" that asks job applicants if they have been convicted of a felony, encourages the voting rights restoration of felons who have done their time, suggests decriminalizing minor offenses and some legalization of medical marijuana. He says there is a need for a social safety net, and he wants to see more social mobility: "We should create ramps, not cliffs." And why not "intervene" in our city's lurch toward two Chattanoogas — one for haves and one for have nots.
Truth be told, both of these men could well represent this important and often neglected district.
Our allegiance is with Hakeem. Our gut says Williams, too, — now or later — will make an excellent leader.