Chattanooga has a strong mayor form of government, but we've seen over the years that our nine-member city council has plenty of sway — sometimes helpful and sometimes not.
Each district's council member represents thousands of residents in communities ranging from Mountain Creek, Alton Park, East Brainerd and East Lake to the hundreds of neighborhoods sprawled across our 144.6 square miles.
In this election season, only two incumbent council members — Chip Henderson, a general contractor, in District 1, and Carol Berz, a legal mediator, in District 6, — are running unopposed. Henderson represents Moccasin Bend and parts of Hixson, Lookout Valley, Mountain Creek and Northwoods. Berz represents Brainerd, the airport area, Brainerd Hills, and parts of Concord, Ooltewah, Summit and Tyner.
Another four incumbents face opposition in the March 2 election, and three seats are open — one due to a retirement and two others because the incumbents are seeking election as mayor.
That means there will be at least three new faces on the council — maybe more — and a new mayor.
That offers our city a challenge — and an opportunity.
District 2: Tim Gorman
District 2 is one of the open seats offering us opportunity.
Incumbent council member, Jerry Mitchell, is retiring. Vying for the position to represent North Chattanooga and Riverview are chemical engineer Tim Gorman, school board member and small business co-owner Jenny Hill and businessman Thomas Lee.
This is a hotly contested race, and as of early February its challengers had hefted the lion's share of city council campaign fundraising to get elected, pulling in about $98,000.
The race is complicated by the fact that Hill, who says she is an Independent, has stated that if elected, she'll continue to hold her school board seat until that term ends in 2022. Both positions are part-time, but both also require highly intensive attention and work. (The council seat pays about $21,000 a year, and the school board pays about $12,000.)
Lee, 56, says he is most interested in making the city government "more responsive" to citizens. He wants to make sure the city "treats its citizens like customers" and be more transparent.
Hill, 42, has been and is a very good school board member, and we're sure she'd also make a very good council member. But we think we deserve more than divided public servant attention — especially in these trying times.
Gorman, a decades long resident of Chattanooga, is making his first run at a public office. And at 60, his goal is not to become a career politician. He strongly believes that early childhood education, family counseling, reducing incarceration rates and strengthening neighborhood infrastructure all pay off economically in safer neighborhoods and a more employable workforce.
"I'm an engineer. I believe in data and best practices. So as a council member my goal will be to show the mayor and my fellow council members that these programs aren't just a moral investment, but a financially smart one."
District 3: Ken Smith
In this district — Dupont, parts of Hixson, parts of Murray Hills and part of Northwoods — incumbent Ken Smith is opposed by political newcomer Rachael Torrence.
We think Smith has been an overly right-leaning, somewhat lackluster council member.
Torrence puts a priority on fighting voter suppression and on individual liberties and compassion. She says that in this "time of divisiveness and a high-tension election, we need to shift our focus to what we can do as a community to come together to improve the lives of all and to find the good in our neighbors again."
Unfortunately, Torrence, 33, who worked in Libertarian Jill Jorgensen's 2020 presidential campaign, disqualified herself for our endorsement with a statement on a local talk show website in which she derided COVID-19 guidelines in Chattanooga and Hamilton County.
"The trampling of the constitutional right for commerce happened when businesses were deemed essential or non-essential. ... I personally believe that if a government needs an emergency to take away our rights, government will continue to call a state of emergency," she wrote.
District 4: Bill Lloyd
In District 4, consisting of parts of Concord, East Brainerd and Summit, incumbent Darrin Ledford faces a challenge from newcomer Bill Lloyd, the board president of Signal Centers and a longtime banker.
Lloyd, who has political experience as a former school board member of a large school system in Illinois, says he was motivated to run for office again after moving here four years ago and watching the impact in his community of the Easter tornado and COVID-19.
Ledford clearly feels the pressure; he has raised $53,000 from more than 50 individual donors since establishing his campaign, the most of any council candidate.
We're not swayed. The very well-spoken Lloyd has expressed concern with the budget reductions in training for police officers and concerns with the very short three-minute limit for citizen addresses to the council during meetings. Those cuts and policies were made and sustained on Ledford's watch. Lloyd also is disinclined to spend city money on building a new Lookouts Stadium over addressing some of the other "basic life issues we need to deal with."
We have those same concerns, and we endorse Lloyd.
District 5: Isiah Hester
This was a tough decision, but one made easier by the fact that we've endorsed Isiah Hester before — in 2014 when he sought unsuccessfully to represent the district on the Hamilton County Commission.
District 5 — representing Bonny Oaks, Dalewood, Lake Hills and parts of Woodmore, Kingspoint and Eastgate — has the most candidates seeking office: Isiah Hester, Dennis Clark, Alan "A.J." Holman Sr., Leanne M. Jones and Cynthia G. Stanley-Cash. The council seat is being vacated by Russell Gilbert, who is running for mayor.
The extremely poised and thoughtful Jones, an executive assistant at Faith United Baptist Church, at 30 is the youngest candidate in this race and we truly hope she remains engaged in politics.
Holman is a pastor who touts his honesty and says correctly "Developing relationships builds communities."
Both the entrepreneur Clark and the retired Stanley-Cash have strong civic and neighborhood volunteer histories.
But we like the social and environmental advocacy that Hester brings, specifically his support of more living wage jobs, improving early childhood education and a drive to ensure both more green spaces and a closer focus on clean, reliable drinking water in his district and Chattanooga.
District 7: Ken Hays
District 7 is an open seat vacated by Erskine Oglesby, who is running for mayor, and it has two excellent candidates: Raquetta Dotley and Ken Hays.
It's not overstatement to say Hays is a bit over-qualified for this job. He was the assistant chief of protocol in the State Department of the Jimmy Carter White House, the chief of staff to former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey and the president and chief executive of the Enterprise Center where he created Tech Goes Home Chattanooga in 2015 to help bridge the digital divide in Chattanooga. You name it, he's done it.
That said, Dotley is a newcomer destined to be a force of nature in politics and community advocacy. Consider: She listed Stacy Abrams as her most-admired public servant, and the quote she lives by is Coretta Scott King's "The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members."
Both of these candidates are clear that neighborhood equity is key to Chattanooga's future success.
We hope Dotley remains engaged and as she calls it "community conscious." For now, we have to give this nod to the pro that is Ken Hays.
District 8: Anthony Byrd
Incumbent Anthony D. Byrd, 45, deserves another term in this council seat that represents Amnicola, Avondale, Bushtown, parts of downtown and Eastside.
"I have the experience, a listening ear and respect for the people in my community," Byrd said. "I've kept my word to invest in the people by securing affordable housing, over 300 new quality jobs, community development through community input, and maintaining intense focus on addressing homelessness. We are not done!"
He is challenged by 22-year-old college student and former school board candidate D'Andre Anderson and 32-year-old protest organizer and graphic artist Marie Mott.
District 9: Demetrus Coonrod
Incumbent Demetrus Coonrod — who represents Eastdale, Glenwood, Missionary Ridge and parts of Ridgedale and East Chattanooga — also has earned another term on Chattanooga's council.
She is opposed by Kelvin Scott. Coonrod's work — along with that of council member Anthony Byrd and others — was instrumental in getting the city a much-needed police review board, the promise of new jobs and a reduction of the digital divide in needy communities.