City Councilman Jack Benson captured 40 percent of the District 4 votes in the March 5 city election, the highest among the five candidates. But with his four opponents fracturing the vote in the District 4 field, he fell short of the 50 percent-plus-one vote total that would have carried him to a fourth term. In the runoff election on April 9, Benson deserves a majority vote for that term.
The case for returning Benson to office over his newcomer challenger, Larry Grohn, weighs heavily in Benson's favor. Benson's valuable and hard-earned experience, his work ethic, his wise and principled positions, his integrity and incorruptibility, and his abiding vision for a balance between the competing commercial and residential needs that are so powerful in District 4, all commend him for another term.
A long-time educator before his retirement, Benson knows the city's neighborhoods, people and infrastructure needs better than anyone else on the incoming City Council. His return to the council clearly would boost the background knowledge that will be sorely needed when the new and largely inexperienced City Council takes office.
Benson's years of experience and his faithful service -- he has missed just one council meeting in 12 years in office -- is well complemented by his strict work ethic and his principled approach to the council's work. Benson doesn't treat his officially part-time office as a part-time job. For him, it's always been a full-time job that requires close study of a range of issues, particularly the zoning battles that he has wisely refereed for years to manage commercial and residential needs around Hamilton Place mall.
By contrast, his tea-party-leaning opponent, Grohn -- a retiree who moved here from Colorado a few years ago and whose level of civic engagement in other states in which he has lived remains largely unknown -- entered the City Council campaign on a questionable basis by misrepresenting Benson's record and positions rather than by showing how he might prove himself by past achievements as a superior candidate.
Grohn has regularly -- and wrongly -- attempted to portray Benson as an unthinking ally of outgoing Mayor Ron Littlefield and developers. In fact, Benson has frequently taken strong positions on key issues against both Littlefield and Hamilton Place developers when he differed with their tax or development policies and commercial proposals.
Benson has been the guiding protector of the community vision that grew out of the District 4 public planning meetings years ago, and he is a strong advocate of strengthening public safety. He is wise, committed and principled enough to stand up and take tough positions when he's called to support proposals that would set bad development precedents or harm the public interest. Indeed, Benson has earned a good reputation around city hall for flatly rejecting campaign donations and under-the-table support that has occasionally been proffered to council members to win their support. He doesn't bend his principles.
Councilman Benson has worked to avoid political partisanship and to support the City Council's traditional avoidance of partisan elections. He is correct to take that stand, especially since the council responsibilities really have nothing to do with the partisan political issues that have so warped elected offices at the state and federal level.
Unfortunately, Grohn and councilman-elect Ken Smith have attempted to rouse support for each other -- and for councilman-elect Chip Henderson -- on the basis of political partisanship. This newspaper's city hall reporter, Cliff Hightower, noted in a front-page story Monday, for example, how Smith introduced Grohn a few weeks ago at a Hamilton County Republican event, saying that "we need him" on the council. "I need him. Chip Henderson needs him," Smith said. Such conduct goes against the nonpartisan grain that traditionally has helped City Council members work collaboratively on public needs without the complication of political gamesmanship.
Benson is better than that. He also is easily the best candidate in his run-off race with Grohn. He merits strong support. We heartily endorse him for re-election.