published Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Chattanooga's District 7 a changing environment for candidates

DISTRICT 7 CANDIDATES

• Chris Anderson, 32, director of food and beverage for the Bluff View Arts District

• Karl Epperson Jr., 67, retired, serves on Westside Community Association board and Chattanooga Beer Board

• Manny Rico, 67, incumbent, owner of Rico Monuments

• Tramble Stephens, no information available

EARLY VOTING

Registered voters may cast ballots through Feb. 28 at the Hamilton County Election Commission, Northgate Mall and Brainerd Recreation Center.

Chattanooga City Council District 7's diverse constituency pretty much guarantees whoever takes the seat March 5 will need to have flexibility as a key character trait.

The growth of pricey condos and townhouses in the north end of District 7 near the Tennessee River brings new people and different needs to a district that until now has had more retirees and low-income residents.

"It's going to be a learning experience of what they expect from the city," said Manny Rico, owner of Rico Monuments, who's seeking a third term as District 7 councilman.

But he and his two main opponents -- Chris Anderson and Karl Epperson Jr. -- agree that most District 7 residents are interested in the basics: feeling safe, having a decent place to live and being able to get around.

Epperson has a motto on his campaign website: How come the big dogs get all the bones?

"It's kind of what my campaign's about. The little guy kind of gets overlooked in the big picture," said the 67-year-old retiree.

"A lot of the people in District 7 are the lower-income caliber, a lot of retired people, a lot of people who have to work two jobs to make ends meet at minimum wage. I don't have to wonder what their needs are and what problems they face -- I face the same problems every day."

Anderson, who worked his way up from assistant server to director of food and beverage at Bluff View Arts District over 10 years, said his experience "has prepared me to deal with pretty much any situation."

Tramble Stephens is in the race but has provided no information and could not be contacted.

Anderson said different parts of the district have different needs -- from dealing with speeding traffic in St. Elmo to smart growth in downtown and the Southside. East Lake needs sidewalks -- "you're talking about a community where there's a lot of disabled people, and they're literally walking in a ditch" -- and folks on the Westside need good public transportation to get to Amazon and Volkswagen.

And everybody needs safe places to work, live and play, the candidates agreed.

Rico said his greatest satisfaction in the job is helping constituents solve problems -- but he can't do that if he doesn't know what they are. So he tells them, "Ya'll get together on a project, something that's attainable, bring it to me and I will go to the city and see if I can help you attain these goals."

Epperson, who ran for mayor in 2005, said he's only spent about $50 on his campaign, so he won't be beholden to anyone if elected.

He urged District 7 residents to vote for somebody in the race.

"Vote your conscience, and whether you vote for me or not, please get out and vote. It's very important," he said.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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