Fights over numbers fly at the mayoral debate among four candidates, with with Dave Crockett ridiculing Larry Grohn’s count of housing shortage at 6,000 and Chris Long revealing a number — 25 — to describe the acreage of a proposed homeless camp.
Mayor Andy Berke takes credit for adding cops to the force but Mr. Grohn does a recount: Only 422 officers are on the force (not 500); he says the city needs more law enforcers in its streets.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
A mayoral candidate debate Feb. 17 in Eastgate Town Center helps delineate the major emphases among the rivals to Mr. Berke, who is backed by the city’s mainstream media editorialists (Pam Sohn, Clint Cooper at the Times Free Press). Mr. Crockett reveals a depth of thought about major projects for the city that involve pushing other government entities to act — such as President Trump, who favors high-speed rail. Mr. Grohn’s approach is more detailed, and more routine as a politician. Mr. Long speaks on limited topics, confident that drumming them will suggest prescience from familiarity, especially on city regulation of the building trades.
Chattanooga residents may exhale over taxes: None of the candidates say they would raise the number dollars the city claims against the people by way of sales or property levies. As senator, Mr. Berke says, he didn’t vote to raise any tax. As mayor he doesn’t want them raised in the city.
Messrs. Grohn and Long say they wouldn’t raise taxes. Mr. Crockett says he has never been willing to take a no-tax-hike pledge and recounts how he won three tax cuts to compensate for a property hike on city council.
Mr. Crockett says his bid to cut the city from Hamilton county would make tax dollars go farther as city taxpayers would not also have to subsidize county expenses, and that his high-speed rail program and 50 direct Lovell Field flights a day arising from a maglev bullet train would bring in a gusher of tax receipts from growth in local economy that would avert any need to talk of tax hikes.
Mr. Long stands out Monday in his proposal for the homeless encampment, one that shares some affinity with my “Your shantytown is my housing free trade zone” concept. But he does little to advance his proposal except to suggest how many acres it might require — 25.
The free market remedy for homelessness would let people adrift settle on subdivided mini-lots, build their own hutments or shacks, stay 2½ years to obtain ownership, and be able to have fixed addresses and a place in which to secure personal effects. The closest to this proposal is mr. long, and the farthest Monday night was Mr. Crockett , who lampooned the idea of giving someone a tool box and expecting them to build a house with it.
Mr. Grohn doesn’t go quite as far as Mr. Long in trying to propose anything for the homeless. But he brings up the fact of the city’s ownership of hundreds of vacant lots and the existence of a land bank authority whose board rarely meets, suggesting it might have some power to allocate property to benefit wanderers and drifters. But Mr. Grohn says nothing in favor for a free trade zone in housing.
No one went out of his way to disabuse listeners of the mistake of thinking that talk about affordable housing also somehow addresses homelessness.
Affordable housing football
Mr. Grohn says the city needs more affordable housing. He quickly shifts gears to discuss vocational and technical training in the trades.
Mr. Crockett says homelessness encompasses whole families. He describes the mercy given by his church, First Baptist, downtown. The city is 6,000 housing units short right now, he says, a figure that Mr. Crockett says is abusively used because it includes all applications for subsidized housing.
Talking about the availability of housing in the free market, Mr. Berke cited his accomplishment in getting every last homeless veteran into housing, according to a letter from a federal agency in Washington, D.C. He says his administration has added a thousand housing units to the city’s stock, in partnership with others and based partly on tax funding.
Go back to city school system?
Regarding schools, Mr. Berke discusses how the city, while not running a school system, works along the margins in service to children. Here, he brings up the baby university and calls it a “key investment in early learning.”
What about cities quitting the county system? Mr. Grohn, weighing the prospect of East Ridge’s and Signal Mountain’s abandoning county schools to start their own, says he is willing to consider all options.
If the city cares about children and early learning, Mr. Grohn said, it would do something to raise the pay for child care workers, most of whom are in less than $9.50 an hour. The Lexia system that uses glowing computer screens to teach reading has failed public school students, he said, citing 2015 Times Free Press reports.
Bike lanes dispute
Regarding infrastructure such as roads and bike lanes, rivals mostly put Mr. Berke on the defensive. Mr. Long says they are useless and continued to hammer stormwater fees and the U.S. consent decree. Mr. Grohn says the sidewalks remain a mess. Mr. Crockett says he likes bike lanes that reduce auto traffic flow
Mr. Crockett brings up his proposal to separate Chattanooga from Hamilton County and says a secession would provide much more money for infrastructure if city taxpayers could pay only city taxes and not have to pay for county services, especially those brought to unincorporated areas, which seem to him to have the area’s most perfect roads
Mr. Berke says paving outlays in his term have doubled. Mr. Grohn attacks his figures, insisting that F$5 million is needed on streets and sidewalks and that the distribution of spending needs to not be so lopsided into two of the several districts.
Regarding crime and policing, Mr. Long says staff ranks are being depleted by retirements, but that the city has enough police officers. He says the mayor needs to have police officers’ backs. Alluding to pizza outings between cops and gang members, Mr. Crockett says policing is not a social experiment and that it needs to be effective, but he offers nothing distinct from the other candidates.
Mr. Berke frames policing — a function of the executive branch — in terms of “gun violence,” saying that he has hired officers, is working more closely with the federal district attorney and has become more purposeful now that it has an eye-on-a-pole surveillance division. His endorsement by police lodges such as the Fraternal Order of Police show that he has “the public safety solutions” that work. Still on the crime issue, Mr. Berke says his welfare programs for children work upstream in children’s lives to prevent them from falling into lives of criminality. “key investments to the people down the line.”
The largest-scale ideas came from Mr. Crockett, whose proposals would take the most work and time to bring to fruition.
He is the one pushing for the bullet train between Atlanta and Chattanooga, which she says would overturn the economy and make it so big and so prosperous it would be silly to think of the limits on new tax revenues for all kinds of social programs.
He says that with the tax revenues that would rise with new prosperity brought by the rail system, there would be one half a billion dollars that could be spent in the city’s neighborhoods. He sounds very much like a Great Society politician with such sweeping statements, a term used in his dismissal by editorialist Cooper in the Times Free Press. While in final statements Mr. Long emphasizes that he would be the people’s mayor readily accessible and often to be found in neighborhoods among Common People, Mister Crockett posits these and other steps as baby steps for a city that could be the most important city in the country
He proposes that his listeners understand his big ideas, their sweeping nature and their structural significance..
Mr. Berke’s manner is approachable, familiar with all the issues before him, professional and versatile, familiar with all issues pertaining to government, agencies, conflicting responsibilities and public expectations. He is a contrast to Mr. Long, who sometimes seems a little out of his depth amid the swirl of complex discussion.
Mr. Crockett speaks with deep conviction and a strong suggestion of a great breadth of knowledge and sweeping connections worldwide. When he says he would bring in people to consult with every line of the budget, someone in the audience shouted out and how much would that person be paid? Mr. Crockett says that those people will come in for free because he knows them and they him.
Mr. Crockett exudes a great confidence in his connections and his view of the world. Mr. Berke comes across as extremely professional and practiced and approachable, with great attention to the details of his office. Mr. Grohn comes across as having incisive insights into numbers, budgets, and facts and figures. Mr. Long comes across as a little harried by his undertaking as mayoral candidate, but one who earnestly believes that he can win and that his analysis touches the interests and hearts of his listeners.
The toughest rebuke about Mr. Berke’s style of elusive politics is from Mr. Long. “You have to fill out a bunch of paperwork to get in touch with him. I will be the people’s mayor. That’s a promise. *** I would listen to the people” and schedule routine visits to neighborhoods.” He says listening to the people would help Chattanooga become great again.
Recovering lost vision
Mr. Crockett is the biggest thinker, the candidate with the most sweeping proposals and the most municipal experience. His description of the growth of Brainerd swamps those of the others, as he posits a forest of construction “cranes coming up across Brainerd like mushrooms” as the high-speed rail project is launched.
In a final pitch Mr. Crockett swings a wide arc. But his prose seems mundane rather than sweeping, from negative to positive, from big hopes to a gloried city past from the 1990s in which a city dynamic had been thwarted by mediocrity.
Mr. Berke and the other challengers, Mr. Crockett says, have worked up “baby steps” better suited to Tullahoma than “the city that could be the most important in the country. If you wanna go with me, we’re going to go fast. Put it in your mind. Chattanooga is going back to what we were doing, I mean big time. We will open our airport; we will have 150 [daily] flights. We’re going to spend half a billion dollars in the neighborhoods. We will go back to ending homelessness and envy. Our goal originally was no substandard housing in the city of Chattanooga. That will be our goal when we go back again.”
Mr. Berke’s baby college typifies for Mr. Crockett the day’s city government and its focus on the small. “We are going to play big-time ball,” Mr. Crockett promises.
A leading environmentalist, Mr. Crockett’s bid has insufficiently exploited this connection among Democrats and liberals, and as a lococentrist he has fought to connect with traditional conservatives and Republicans who feel Mr. Grohn is their default candidate since he fought gay marriage benefits and identifies with tea party and Trump conservatives.