published Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

3 voted off Chattanooga City Council


by Cliff Hightower
Campaign signs line East Brainerd Road in front of the polling place at Concord Baptist Church.
Campaign signs line East Brainerd Road in front of the polling place at Concord Baptist Church.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Voters sent three City Council incumbents home for good Tuesday night. And for two others, the campaign season's not over until a runoff election next month.

Newcomer Ken Smith beat incumbent Pam Ladd in District 3, Chris Anderson defeated Manny Rico in District 7, and Moses Freeman defeated AndraƩ McGary in District 8.

Just six votes separated the two candidates in the nail-biter race of the night, the District 9 contest between incumbent Peter Murphy and Yusuf Hakeem, who held the seat from 1990 to 2006.

They are headed to an April 9 runoff, as is District 4 Councilman Jack Benson, who was unable to get enough votes to put away challenger Larry Grohn.

Two council members, Russell Gilbert, who represents District 5, and Carol Berz, who represents District 6, ran unopposed.

Tuesday night's results shake up the gender mix on the council -- female representation on the council dwindles from four to one. Deborah Scott and Sally Robinson decided not to run for re-election this year. Chip Henderson won Scott's District 1 seat while Jerry Stewart won Robinson's District 2 seat.

The new mayor and council members will be sworn in April 15.

Council members serve four-year terms and are paid $21,991 a year. The chairman makes $27,651, while the vice chairman makes $25,151.

District 1

Voters elected Chip Henderson for City Council District 1. Henderson garnered 52.66 percent of the vote or 1,120 total votes.

Henderson said he will focus on what he called "essential needs" throughout his term.

"Basically, our infrastructure, our public safety and our economic development -- just making sure that we have an infrastructure in Chattanooga that facilitates our citizens and ... making sure that we have a strong fire and police department ... and making sure that we have the right kind of economic development to facilitate the growth of business in Chattanooga," he said.

Henderson, 52, who owns and operates Henderson Construction, represents the Lookout Valley, Moccasin Bend, Mountain Creek, North Chattanooga and Northwoods North areas.

"We're just ecstatic. I want to thank all the voters of District 1," he said.

District 2

Jerry Mitchell took the open District 2 seat formerly held by Sally Robinson. Mitchell garnered 1,593 votes -- accounting for 54 percent of the 2,925 District 2 votes.

Mitchell, 57, credited his success Tuesday to "running a positive campaign" and focusing on reaching out to residents. He also campaigned fulltime for the last three months, he said.

"Let's re-engage the citizens of District 2 and decide to really see that they get good representation in the city," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he plans to focus on public safety, responsible government, nurturing business and public education.

Mitchell's closest opponent, Roger Tuder pulled 965 votes, or 33 percent.

Priscilla Simmons won 356 votes, making up 12 percent of the vote.

District 3

Ken Smith bested incumbent Pam Ladd, raking in 1,459 votes -- or 59 percent of the 2,490 ballots.

Smith, 40, credited hand shaking and pavement pounding for his victory.

"We worked hard. It's about knocking on doors, meeting people. I had volunteers with me knocking on doors every chance. ... That takes time. It doesn't take money," Smith said.

He also said his "getting back to basics" campaign message appealed to the public. Smith is touting a plan to reinforce police and fire personnel and refocus resources to road work and maintenance.

Smith is chief information officer at the Johnson Group, a marketing firm.

Ladd gained 1,031 votes, or 41 percent. While shocked and saddened by the outcome, she said she does not regret her time on the council.

"I loved it," she said. "I absolutely loved it. I honestly, honestly cared for this district and this city."

District 4

Incumbent Jack Benson and Larry Grohn are heading for a runoff for the District 4 City Council seat.

Benson collected 689 votes, or 34 percent, and Grohn won 636 votes, or 31 percent.

Benson, 83, said his goals, if elected, center on residential life.

"My focus is a strong land-use plan that will guide the development in our district that makes this district a place where quality residential life can take place," he said.

Grohn, 65, a retired high school teacher, also wants to improve the quality of life for District 4 residents.

"Taxes are killing people in East Brainerd," he said.

Grohn also mentioned crime and flooding as key components of his campaign.

"I came within a hair of having walked every single block of the district," he said.

Benson said he's been preparing for a runoff from the beginning.

"I'm looking forward to the runoff. I've anticipated it and planned for it," he said. "So we're ready."

Districts 5 and 6

Incumbents Russell Gilbert and Carol Berz ran unopposed for another term.

District 7

Chris Anderson defeated incumbent Manny Rico to become Chattanooga's first openly gay city councilman.

Rico, who has been in office since 2005, lost by 300 votes, 801-501.

"Maybe we're more progressive than I realized," Rico said Tuesday night. "Maybe we want a gay councilman. That's what he ran on. That's what disappoints me the most. It seems like we're losing our morals."

Anderson rebuffed Rico's statements.

"I neither ran on a platform of being gay or from a platform of being gay," he said. "I ran on the idea of representing all of District 7. I'm sorry the incumbent can be so disrespectful of the people he claims he represents. I'm sorry that he can be so insensitive, though I understand he's disappointed to lose."

Rico, 67, said he will continue to try to serve the city while also working as the owner of Rico Monuments.

District 8

Moses Freeman wants less crime in his district. He wants more money, too. And cleaner neighborhoods.

Freeman defeated incumbent AndraƩ McGary in a landslide District 8 election, taking 61 percent of the 1,220 votes.

Freeman said Tuesday night that a goal for his next four years in office will be to decrease the number of vacant properties in his district. Freeman also wants to see fewer boarded-up buildings. More houses need to be built, too.

Freeman, who received backing from the city's Democratic leaders, promised Tuesday to have a working relationship with all council members -- regardless of ideological differences.

"I want to be one of those people to bring the council together," he said.

District 9

Yusuf Hakeem was 0.02 percentage points away from sealing the District 9 race Tuesday night. Now he and incumbent Peter Murphy will wait for the Hamilton County Election Commission to count provisional ballots later this week to determine if a runoff is indeed needed.

With 2,061 votes cast, Hakeem leads Murphy 1,030-1,024. Seven people wrote in their own candidates -- enough to sway the election either way.

According to the City Charter, a candidate must win 50 percent plus one vote to win election. On Tuesday night, Hakeem held 49.98 percent of the vote. Murphy had 49.68 percent.

The election commission has until Saturday to count the provisional ballots, which could lead to a winner instead of a runoff. But on Tuesday night, elections officials did not know how many provisional ballots had been cast in District 9. Provisional ballots are for voters whose eligibility is questionable, such as when a voter doesn't show a photo ID or doesn't have up-to-date information on his or her voter registration.

Compiled by staff writers Tyler Jett, Louie Brogdon and Lindsay Burkholder.

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