The days are ticking down to Chattanooga's mayoral and council election day.
Now your opportunity to vote is just Monday and a wake-up away.
Two weeks ago, we endorsed Monty Bruell for mayor, citing his heart, his drive for equity and his fresh ideas — especially for CARTA transportation which, if reimagined and free, would be a huge opportunity leveler in the city.
We also noted that the city would be in good hands with any of these four of our 15 mayoral candidates: Bruell, Wade Hinton, Tim Kelly and Kim White. We've come to refine that list to Bruell, Hinton and Kelly. Each — especially Bruell — could put our city on the right track in this post-pandemic climb out of hardship.
The big question, we still believe, is which track is that right track: Equity, affordable housing, an infrastructure that builds on accessibility, police retraining and repurposing? Or simply development and tourism?
Others were thinking of tracks, as well — though perhaps not favoring the same ones.
A local conservative group, Hamilton Flourishing, hired Spry Strategies, a Knoxville-based polling firm, to survey "likely voters" to prioritize their own categories of issues. According to Hamilton Flourishing, respondents said they prioritized, in order: economic development and job growth; affordable housing; crime and public safety; homelessness, mental illness and addiction; civil unrest and racial tension; local roads and bridges; alternative methods of transportation; reducing carbon footprint.
That's not what we and candidates hear when we talk to likely voters.
When we talk to people, the first things they say are roads, education and affordable housing. Candidates overwhelming told us people say roads, education and a fair shake — equity.
We think those "survey" priorities may reflect more of Hamilton Flourishing's views. And why it matters is simple. The group says the upshot of their survey, paired with a more recent head-to-head poll, shows Kelly leading with 27.9%, followed by White at 15.2% and Hinton at 12.2%. (Please note that's only a total of 55.3% of respondents. Also, most respondents are still undecided.)
What's more, the group says Kelly leads in all but two of their prioritized categories (all but the two "least popular issues"). He also leads in several demographic groups: male (29%), female (27%), Republican (34%), Democrat (22.3%), independent (31.1%) and white (33.9%). The group also notes that "which groups have the strongest turnout could define who wins or, more likely, who winds up in a runoff election if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote."
Yes, turnout matters. So if you take to heart and believe all that Hamilton Flourishing reports and you support a different candidate — as we do — you might think there's no point going to the polls on Tuesday.
Don't think that. Believe in your own priorities, not the ones you read about from a conservative group with a particularly conservative political agenda. Chattanooga will not grow for all of us with that kind of agenda.
Bruell told us: "I like to say Chattanooga is like a bright shiny pickup truck. Some of us are riding up front in the cab and we've got the air conditioning going, the music's blasting, and we're enjoying the view through the windshield. But we're not even paying attention to the poor people who are in the bed of the truck out there exposed to the elements, not enjoying the creature comforts that the rest of us have up in the front. And the problem with this is we keep adding more and more people to the bed of the truck. And you know the way trucks work. When the weight of those people exceeds the capacity of the truck, they're not the only ones who will be broken down by the side of the road. We will all be broken down together."
Bruell, 59, is an entrepreneur who was raised by a single mom in Alton Park and East Chattanooga. He was Baylor School's first Black graduate and went to Harvard, graduating with a degree in economics. He has worked with Coca-Cola, Provident and Morgan Stanley.
Hinton, 46, calls himself "a convener," and in his job with Hamilton County under the late Claude Ramsey and as city attorney for five years in Andy Berke's mayoral administration, he's done some convening: The Volkswagen expansion, the Alstom tax credits clawback, the establishment of the city's Office of Early Learning — which he wants to build on.
He would appoint a COVID-19 response director to streamline resources and partner with the county on vaccines and other needs. He would create an Equitable Recovery Commission to oversee the use the federal recovery funds to rebuild a more inclusive economy. He would work more closely with schools to use the city's transportation systems and youth and family development centers.
Kelly is 53 and a well-known small business owner who loaned his campaign more than $1 million to be free of "outside influences." He, too, is 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 would build on the city's early learning programs, and use CARTA to provide transportation to the public schools' Future Ready Institutes — a concept he terms "brilliant."
Go to the polls Tuesday and vote your heart.
And when the election is over, ask your new mayor how our city can harness the thinking power of all of these good candidates at once to set us on all the tracks necessary for our city to thrive.