published Friday, March 30th, 2012

Chattanooga Councilman Andraé McGary joining race for Tennessee Senate seat


by Cliff Hightower

Chattanooga Councilman Andraé McGary is entering the state Senate race for the seat being vacated by Democrat Andy Berke.

"We believe we can be competitive and we don't have to have a billion dollars," McGary said.

The councilman will run in the 10th District Democratic primary in August. Hamilton County Board of Education member David Testerman also has picked up a petition to run as a Democrat in the primary.

Republicans competing in the GOP primary are Chattanooga businessman Todd Gardenhire and businessman Greg Vital.

McGary said he plans to pick up his petition today and have it turned in by Monday. The deadline is Thursday. He plans to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. at the Hamilton County Election Commission announcing his run for Senate.

He said he has most of his campaign staff assembled.

The district has changed drastically in the last few months after redistricting. The Senate district once stretched from Hamilton County to Marion County but was drawn this year to include part of Bradley County and omit the Marion County piece.

Berke, who has served in the Legislature since 2007, announced he wouldn't run for re-election after redistricting. He said he is interested in a Chattanooga mayoral run, but he has not yet made an announcement.

McGary said he made his decision based on wanting to handle upcoming issues such as Race to the Top funding and health care reform.

McGary was elected to the City Council in April 2009 in a runoff against longtime incumbent Leamon Pierce. The campaign was a face-off between an older longtime leader and McGary, a newcomer.

He is married with four children and holds a doctorate in philosophy on integration of religion in society.

The councilman has shown interest in higher office before. In December 2009, he considered a run for the 3rd Congressional District seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp. He later bowed out of consideration.

He also has considered a run for Chattanooga mayor.

McGary has seen his share of troubles. He had to step down as executive director of the Homeless Coalition in early 2010 because of questions of conflict of interest because the organization receives city money. He also has faced the wrath of City Council members in the past because of his taking a job as a talk show radio host.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said this week that if McGary ran, he would not have to give up his council seat.

"He would only have to resign if he's elected," McMahan said. "You can't hold two seats."

McGary said he would continue to hold his council seat and does not plan on resigning.

"I will have to resign if I win, and I plan on winning," he said.

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