published Friday, June 13th, 2014

Coppinger faces Ford for Hamilton County's top post

IMPORTANT DATES

* July 8: Last day to register to vote

* July 31: Last day to request an absentee ballot

* July 18-Aug. 2: Early voting

* Aug. 7: State primary and county general election

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories about contested races in the August county general election.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger has not been spared this election season. He was challenged in the Republican primary — and he faces an independent candidate on Aug. 7.

But the campaign hasn't exactly been a political thriller.

Coppinger was challenged by perennial candidate and one-time Internet sensation Basil Marceaux in the May primary. Coppinger took 91 percent of the vote.

In the August county general election, Coppinger is facing Richard Ford, who proudly wears the mantle of underdog.

And he's faced Ford before.

In 2012, Coppinger won a special election to finish former Mayor Claude Ramsey's term and won 68 percent of the vote over Ford and Democrat Richard Wilson.

In that race, Ford captured 3 percent of the vote, with Wilson taking 28 percent.

Ford is not a typical candidate. He lives on Social Security and disability after working 27 years at Miller Industries. He said that's his only income.

Further, he's not fundraising for his campaign. Ford's April quarterly campaign disclosure showed he had not raised or spent a dime. He says he can't be bought.

"I'm not asking anybody for money. If I do get in there, I don't owe nobody nothing," Ford said.

Meanwhile, Coppinger's most recent financial disclosures show he has $121,356 on hand.

Coppinger touts economic efforts

But Coppinger says he's still taking the campaign -- and the job -- seriously.

Commissioners will vote on Coppinger's fourth budget next week.

"We've stayed committed to the economic development piece, in creating jobs, and we've certainly made education a priority. These are things that we've worked diligently on," Coppinger said.

Voters should stick with him, because the county has made a lot of progress with him at the helm, he said.

Since Coppinger has been in office, 62 businesses have expanded, 31 have opened and one decided to stay in Hamilton County. Those created or retained 7,869 jobs, he said.

"We want to continue to effectively create jobs and create interest for companies either locating or operating here," he said.

On the education front, Coppinger pointed to more than $100 million his administration has aimed at school construction or expansion. Not to mention more than 200,000 books the county has distributed through its Read 20 program.

Coppinger was first elected in 2010 as a District 3 Hamilton County commissioner. Before that he had spent nearly three decades at the Chattanooga Fire Department, including eight years as chief. But commissioners appointed him to the mayor's post in January 2011, after Ramsey became a top deputy for Gov. Bill Haslam.

Ford promotes county shakeup

Ford said Thursday he's running because he says Hamilton County needs some shaking up. He's independent and not afraid to speak his mind -- or step on some toes, he said.

"I'm for any underdog. I've been one all my life," Ford said. "I'm not for lining my pockets with taxpayer money."

Aside from wanting to trim county government -- and the pay for the county mayor and his staff -- Ford would like to see a property tax break for elderly residents who are on fixed income.

He also wants to implement a comprehensive countywide recycling program.

"How many people in the north end of the county are going to haul all their plastics to Harrison, on specific days at specific times? We could do better than that," Ford said.

Ford suggested that inmates at the county's Silverdale Detention Facility could separate all the county's refuse and earn minimum wage doing it.

"The taxpayers of Hamilton County, they deserve better," he said.

But Coppinger said he'd like the opportunity to continue to make the county even more prosperous.

"We're going to continue to focus on good government, continue to be fiscally responsible for the taxpayers, and we will continue to look at ways to save money," he said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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