published Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Andy Berke's path to Chattanooga mayor's office easier


by Cliff Hightower
Andy Berke
Andy Berke
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

THE FIELD

The 2013 Chattanooga mayoral election saw major changes Friday when one potentially strong candidate dropped out and two new ones got in. The qualifying deadline is Thursday (Dec. 20). Candidates as of Friday are:

* Andy Berke

* Wayne Hamill

* Chester Heathington Jr.

* Guy Satterfield

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

The exit of a potentially strong candidate from the 2013 Chattanooga mayor's race Friday appears to leave almost a clear path for former state Sen. Andy Berke to walk into office.

Rob Healy, former Parks and Recreation director and businessman, dropped out Friday. Wayne Hamill, former Red Bank public works director and East Ridge city manager, and Chester Heathington Jr., a perennial candidate in local races, picked up qualifying papers.

Former city employee Guy Satterfield also is running.

"That would seem to be no contest at all," said Dr. Richard Wilson, political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

He said it is unprecedented for such a weak field to be lining up against a strong candidate in an open election. Mayor Ron Littlefield is term-limited and can't seek re-election.

"I'm surprised the community is not putting up an alternative," Wilson said.

Healy sent out a news release Friday saying he was ending his run and hinting that lack of money was the reason.

"I have concluded my candidacy presently lacks the support necessary to win this election," he said in the release.

Hamill on Friday described himself as an "unconventional" candidate, saying he hoped voters would be "filled with the Holy Spirit" and support him at the polls.

Satterfield said, "I know I've got a big mountain to climb, but I'm not going to quit." Heathington could not be reached for comment.

Berke said Friday the lack of strong challengers so far doesn't mean he's going to coast.

"Nothing has changed," he said. "For several months, no one was in the race, and we did coffees and knocked on doors."

Berke announced his candidacy in May and raised more than $400,000 straightaway. He has more than $100,000 in his Senate war chest that he also could spend on the campaign if needed.

Rodney Strong, vice chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said Berke's early start on organizing and fundraising made him a strong candidate.

Berke, a Democrat, has reached out to Republicans and independents, which means challengers will have to scramble for money, Strong said.

"It's harder to find resources," he said.

Chattanooga Tea Party Chairman Mark West acknowledged Friday there doesn't appear to be a strong challenger to Berke.

"I'm disappointed to come to the conclusion that it's going to come down to an acclamation for Mr. Berke," West said. "It's hard to imagine there's not a good candidate to face a big-government, big-spending leftist liberal."

On his website, Berke says he supports balanced budgets and efficient and transparent spending on the city's needs.

Marty von Schaaf, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, expressed surprise on hearing Healy had dropped out.

"It gives Mr. Berke an even clearer path to the mayor's office," he said. "We're going to have to take a look at all council seats to make sure he doesn't have a clear path to do what he wants to do."

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