published Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Mayor hopeful Robert Chester Heathington Jr. lashes at task force, criminals


by Cliff Hightower

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    Andy Berke is running for Chattanooga mayor.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
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EARLY VOTING

Early voting in Chattanooga's mayor and council elections starts Wednesday. Election Day is March 5.

A Chattanooga mayoral hopeful who has complained about a lack of attention to his campaign got plenty at a public forum Friday when he made a comment about Jews and said he would not help rehabilitate criminals.

Robert Chester Heathington Jr., a former city employee, told the crowd of about 50 to 60 people at Eastdale Recreation Center that he would eliminate the city's gang task force if elected.

"The gang task force?" he asked. "Those two guys couldn't find a Jew in Jerusalem."

The crowd gasped, then sat silent. Mayoral candidate Andy Berke, who is Jewish, sat five feet away from Heathington.

Berke said afterward he had no comment on Heathington's remark.

The third mayoral hopeful, former city employee Guy Satterfield, was not present. Ninth District City Council candidates Peter Murphy and Yusuf Hakeem and 5th District incumbent Russell Gilbert, who is unopposed, also attended.

When the moderator asked Berke what to do about the gang task force, he said the city has an overall crime problem that must be addressed.

"We're getting pretty hung up on this 'gang' word," Berke said.

Moments later, the candidates were asked about rehabilitating criminals.

Heathington told the crowd he "would do nothing" for convicts and instead would set up a veterans affairs department in City Hall to give jobs to military veterans. He told the audience he would tell convicts to go to church and parents to become more involved.

"You need to step up your game," he said.

The crowd immediately began booing him.

During his closing remarks, Heathington said he looked around and saw many people who knew or probably even had children in gangs.

"You need to take politics out of it and look at yourself," Heathington said.

"You aren't getting my vote," one woman in the audience gasped.

Before the forum started, Heathington spoke to a reporter about the majority of the audience being "Berke's crowd."

"You're going to see the best money can buy," Heathington said, talking about the attendees.

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