published Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Crime at the forefront as Chattanooga election looms


by Cliff Hightower

ELECTION DAY

* Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

THE RACES

* Mayor: Andy Berke, Robert Chester Heathington Jr., Guy Satterfield

* District 1: Jim Folkner, Pat Hagan, Chip Henderson and Tom McCullough

* District 2: Jerry Mitchell, Priscilla Simmons and Roger Tuder

* District 3: Pam Ladd, Ken Smith

* District 4: Jack Benson, Larry Grohn, Ryan King, Scott McColphin and Tom Tomisek

* District 5: Russell Gilbert Sr.

* District 6: Carol Berz

* District 7: Chris Anderson, Karl Epperson, Manny Rico and Tramble Stephens

* District 8: Moses Freeman, Andraé McGary

* District 9: Yusuf Hakeem, Peter Murphy

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

BY THE NUMBERS

* 2005: 26,000 ballots cast, 9,179 early voters

* 2009: 18,773 ballots cast, 6,101 early voters

* 2013: 7,285 early voters

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Robert Thein knows a thing or two about crime in Chattanooga. He's seen it firsthand.

"My son got shot," Thein said.

The family moved to the city a year ago from Arkansas. They hadn't been here long when an intruder entered their home in Churchville and shot his 20-something son in the shoulder from behind, Thein said.

His son is better now, but Thein doesn't think there's been much improvement in the crime situation.

"I've seen one cop over the last four days on my street," he said.

Crime is on voters' minds on the eve of Tuesday's mayor and City Council elections. So are other issues: better street maintenance, cleaning stormwater drains and education.

On April 19, the city will have a new mayor for the first time in eight years and a different makeup on the council to address those concerns.

But voters may not know the election's final outcome even after the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday and results are announced.

Runoff elections are scheduled for April 9 in case a candidate does not win a majority of 50 percent plus one vote.

"It's very feasible for there to be at least two runoffs," said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator of the Hamilton County Election Commission.

In City Council District 1, four candidates are vying for an open seat after Deborah Scott declined to seek re-election. Five candidates are seeking the District 4 seat. With so many challengers, it's harder for any one to hit the majority mark, Mullis-Morgan said.

Crime topped the list of concerns in an informal survey conducted in November by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Records show crime in the city has dropped consistently over the past three years. However, new crime statistics are expected soon, and Chattanooga city officials have said they anticipate the numbers will show crime growing.

George Driese, who moved to Hixson a year ago with his wife, Linda, doesn't need statistics to know crime is up. Several months ago they arrived home to find someone had broken into their house.

"I've lived in Miami, Chicago, Virginia," he said. "This place tops it all."

Linda Driese said that should be the first priority for a new mayor and council.

"Clean up the crime and the gangs," she said.

Hannah Johnson, a Highland Park resident, would like to see more money put into roads.

The city has put almost $2 million into paving over the past two years, but a study showed it would take more than $5 million annually to maintain city streets.

"We need better upkeep for the amount of taxes we're paying," Johnson said.

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