Coming off of a year and a half of pandemic virus and recession, coupled with a tornado, protests and floods, we believe Chattanooga — with its ever-growing economic divide — faces a future more uncertain than any we've seen since the 1960s, making this year's mayoral election among the most critical in decades.
We like to tell ourselves that classism and racism are just part of our past. But they are not past. They are here. Now.
> The average Black household in Chattanooga today earns half what the average white household here does. And that is a problem for all of Chattanooga.
> We can't pave and repave fast enough to keep the streets safe. And we can't consistently hire enough police officers — Black or white — or retain them at an adequate rate.
> If you have no car in Chattanooga, you're out of luck for getting to a job, buying groceries or even getting to some schools. Public transportation in our community is more slim than it's ever been.
All of this is why we believe Tim Kelly is the best choice to put Chattanooga on the right track as we continue to try to pull through the worst global pandemic in a century.
And make no mistake, while our city's "right track" is as multifaceted as ever, any and all efforts to build on our successes of tourism and economic development must at long last be anchored with equity, affordable housing, repurposed police training and infrastructure that builds on full community accessibility.
Kelly, a 53-year-old business owner and entrepreneur, has been passionate about Chattanooga's continuing problems with inequity.
"We've got some serious equity issues in Chattanooga. My time as chairman of the Community Foundation in particular made that really obvious to me. Our gaps here between rich and poor, and black and white are large. They're are grotesquely large nationally, but they're larger here."
With a degree from Columbia and an MBA from Emory University, Kelly thinks education is a big key to fixing that and raising Chattanooga beyond just being a $10-an-hour service jobs town. He also thinks the city has a role in education, despite the county having jurisdiction over our local public schools. He would build on the city's early leaning programs, and try to use CARTA to provide transportation to the public schools' Future Ready Institutes — a concept he terms "brilliant."
"I'm a doer," Kelly says. "I want to fix this stuff."
His opponent, former River City Company president and CEO Kim White, 60, says Chattanooga needs a seasoned, strategic leader who listens and gets things done. With her experience growing $1.2 billion in investment and jobs at River City and her history of working with city, county, business and nonprofit partners, she thinks she's that person.
"I think that our community is at a critical crossroads," she told the Times Free Press recently. The challenge is not just with COVID recovery needs but also "in neighborhoods that haven't had investment" and with "voices that haven't been at the table.
The trouble is, we got here while she had a prime seat for 11 years at that table as she headed River City.
If she couldn't do enough in more than decade to help right some of the dynamics that led to our gross community inequities, why should we think she could do so now as mayor?
Further, we're put off by her coziness with high-dollar developers. Under her watch at River City where her job was to secure development, she vetted seven downtown housing PILOT applications (tax break plans to lure development that ostensibly wouldn't happen without the aid) that resulted in the city and county giving up $13.2 million in property taxes, according to retired planner Helen Burns Sharp, who founded Accountability for Taxpayer Money, a public interest advocacy group in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga simply must move beyond its pretentious and costly tax-cut-courting of developers and instead find a way to make this one Chattanooga, not two — one for the haves and another for the have-nots.
Kelly has been envisioning change for the better in Chattanooga for four decades — since he returned here from college in New York, became a learner in Leadership Chattanooga in 1991 and got involved in a number of Chattanooga civic organizations from the Girls Club to the Community Foundation.
Like many of us who love this city, he has grown increasingly frustrated with how little progress the city had seen, particularly in conversations about equity and education.
"As I say a lot, entrepreneurs hate wasted potential, and Chattanooga has still got so much potential," Kelly said. "We have got to address these sort of pernicious, stubborn structural problems that we've been dealing with, and it's going to take, I think, leadership without political caution to do it."
We agree 100%. Please vote for Tim Kelly. The election is Tuesday.