published Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Fight already under way in Chattanooga runoff elections


by Cliff Hightower

Hamilton County election commissioners will meet this morning to decide whether write-in votes will be counted in Chattanooga's District 9 City Council race.

If they are, Peter Murphy and Yusuf Hakeem will go to a runoff April 9.

If they're not, Hakeem will be the district's new councilman.

Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said election commissioners and the city attorney discussed Wednesday whether write-ins should be counted, since they were not cast for a candidate who formally filed as a write-in with the election commission.

"Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck don't count," she said.

The race pitted Hakeem, a former councilman, against incumbent Murphy. Hakeem received 1,030 votes to Murphy's 1,024.

It takes 50 percent plus one vote to win, and, thanks to write-ins, neither man hit the mark: Hakeem got 49.98 percent of the vote.

Murphy maintains that city law is very clear: The winner must have 50 percent plus one of "all votes cast."

"There were seven votes cast," he said.

Hakeem said he will attend this morning's meeting.

"If the question isn't resolved, we have to be ready to move on," he said.

That could be a runoff or even a move into court, he added.

There's no question that there'll be a runoff in District 4 between incumbent Jack Benson and former educator Larry Grohn.

Benson amassed more than $24,000 for his race, financial disclosure forms show. About $4,500 of that came from the Lebovitz family, which owns and operates CBL & Associates Properties Inc. CBL owns Hamilton Place mall.

Grohn's biggest contributor is Issa Bassam, a developer who is suing the city for not allowing him to build an International House of Pancakes on Gunbarrel Road. He gave $1,000 to Grohn's campaign.

Grohn said his runoff with Benson has drawn interest from new donors, but he's going to keep knocking on voters' doors.

"You can get all the money you want, but it may not be what the district wants," he said.

Benson said he expected and is prepared for a runoff. With 12 years on the council, he's a known quantity to voters, he said.

"We'll try to let the public see the differences between us," he said.

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