OPINION: Chart city's path forward by electing Kim White mayor of Chattanooga

Clint Cooper, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·5 min read

Apr. 10—Chattanoogans can help determine their future for the next four or eight years Tuesday when they elect a new mayor. He or she will do more to affect your daily life in the city than President Joe Biden or Gov. Bill Lee will ever do.

For that reason, we again endorse Kim White in the mayoral runoff with Tim Kelly.

Since the March 2 primary, we have found her even more enthusiastic about shaping a city for all residents, even more open about collaborative government and even more sure about the city's boundless opportunities.

For those still determining their vote, we suggest they consider the following:

> White is the closest of the two candidates to being a nonpartisan Chattanooga mayoral pick in a generation. While Federal Election Commission financial disclosure reports show she has supported moderate Republicans, she has made a point during the race of reaching out to all residents and clearly staying out of comments involving national politics.

Kelly, on the other hand, not only has publicly said he did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016 or 2020 but became caught up in a social media brouhaha in which he responded to the death of right-wing radio talk show pioneer Rush Limbaugh with a post which seemed to express "pleasure" at his death (and over which he said he made a mistake).

Further, his recent financial contributions show he supported Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, now-President Joe Biden in the general election and donated twice to Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue.

In addition, Kelly's campaign website suggests plans that mimic those of top national Democrats. Among other things, he has called for "universal" pre-kindergarten like 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Beto O'Rourke; says he wants to reshape "the priorities of the police department" and "decriminalize certain nonviolent offenses"; and says the city should champion "environmental justice."

> White is the only candidate of the two of who can say she is, to use the slogan of Girls Inc.'s annual fundraising luncheon, unbought and unbossed. Without the need to promise also-ran candidates anything for their support, she can say she owes all of her allegiance to the voters who elect her.

She is also only the candidate of the two who doesn't have to be subject to a charge of trying to buy an election. With an additional $100,000 loaned to his campaign in March, Kelly has now loaned his campaign the locally unprecedented amount of $1,188,200, according to financial disclosure forms.

White, on the other hand, likes to say she has received support and campaign contributions from each of the city's nine council districts. She also has loaned her campaign a modest $9,000.

In the most recent campaign disclosures, covering the period Feb. 21 through April 3, White received contributions of $350,970, while Kelly pulled in $340,466.

> When White says she will be "ready to lead on Day One," her words are not just a campaign slogan. While working as president and CEO of River City Company, she worked closely with city and county governments on recruiting business for downtown, knows the principals involved and knows where she'll need to go to get things done.

Kelly, though he is a local businessman with civic involvement, doesn't have the same amount of experience in projects involving the wheels of local governments.

> White not only would be Chattanooga's first female mayor — a not insignificant achievement — but doesn't come from the same monied class as her opponent and as those who have said to be behind many of the mayors in the last century of the city's history.

She came from humble Hixson beginnings as the daughter of 17-year-old parents and had to work her way through the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. When she returned to the city in which she grew up and which she loved, she returned with no job and no political connections. Her work and her involvement have put her in a runoff for the city's top leadership post.

Contrast that with Kelly, whose family was wealthy and who inherited a car dealership from his father. He also started and grew businesses himself, but it's always easier to score when you start out on third base.

> White has run her campaign on the strength of her experience and her plans for the city. For some reason, Kelly and his supporters have spread the rumor — even before the runoff — both that she has aspirations for higher office and that she has raised taxes on the city through the creation of the downtown Business Improvement District.

White, 60, laughs that if she were to seek higher office, her husband would divorce her.

As to downtown businesses assessed to support a cleaner, safer sector, the Chattanooga City Council approved that charge with their votes. White sought such approval while at nonprofit River City but had no power on her own to raise any fees.

Since the primary election, while Kelly has collected political chits from vanquished candidates, White has been the recipient of support from individuals who tell unbidden stories of her mentorship, her kindnesses and her leadership in their lives. She also has spoken passionately of her faith, and in a world that is increasingly secular, humanistic and materialistic, we appreciate the core that guides the leadership principles in her life and for our city.

We hope Chattanooga residents vote on Tuesday to set a new and historic path and elect White.