OPINION: Issues facing Chattanooga mayors in 1971, 2021 are parallel

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

Apr. 18—Fifty years ago this week, a new mayoral regime took office.

Attorney Robert Kirk Walker had won his March primary for the city's top post and had to wait for runoffs in two commission races to be decided before being inaugurated.

Before the primary, which was expected to be a close race with attorney Mitchell Crawford (but was not), he cited what he said were seven issues in the campaign.

In 2020, during his campaign, now-Mayor-Elect Tim Kelly elucidated what he believed were the city's top issues on his website and later announced a plan for his first potential first 100 days in office.

It is interesting to note that some of the same challenges that faced Walker will face Chattanooga's new mayor when he is inaugurated Monday.

Take a look:

— Walker, 1971: "I will ... work in complete cooperation with others in government to provide the specific, tangible things needed to combat crime more effectively, such as more and better police officers, better street lighting and modern equipment. I will support cooperative action to provide the help and rehabilitation needed to meet problems of narcotics and alcoholism."

— Kelly, 2021: "Our officers must be prepared and expected to demonstrate best practices using the best tools when facing the difficult challenges they encounter. ... Chattanooga will work with leading organizations to develop a community outreach response team that can dispatch to nonviolent situations involving mental illness, homelessness, and addiction."

— Walker, 1971: "I have pledged ... to work for more jobs for Chattanoogans and to do everything possible to see that the already too-heavy burden of property taxes is minimized. I have pledged to work for new business and industry for our community and new jobs."

— Kelly, 2021: I will be "a mayor who recognizes the importance of utilizing and enhancing our assets to attract growth, developing a strong workforce that is employed in high-quality jobs, and promoting equitable growth. ... Recruitment of new industries will require Chattanooga to explore strategically leveraging [its] resources."

— Walker: "[T]he mayor must assume a leading role in taking whatever action is necessary to solve [air and water pollution]. Where firm enforcement of the air pollution ordinance is necessary, the mayor must be free to see that it is carried out."

— Kelly, 2021: "Our commitment to sustainability includes environmental quality, public health, economic vitality, cultural diversity, and conservation of our natural assets."

— Walker, 1971: "My experience as a private citizen ... will be of great benefit to me ... in working for further expansion of educational opportunities. My experience in helping establish the Vocational Technical School here will also be valuable."

— Kelly, 2021: "[T]he City must ... play an important role in ensuring every family and child have access to an excellent education. ... [I will] commit city resources to complete the launch of [a] Building Trades Academy in partnership with Hamilton County Schools and other key public and private partners."

— Walker, 1971: "I have outlined my plans for an immediate program to bring about modernization of local government, with maximum efficiency and economy of operation, to provide more services for more people."

— Kelly, 2021: "[I will] announce [a] city organizational plan. ... Some of the initial steps towards agency coordination must include establishing a clear definition of roles to promote transparency and efficiency in operations."

— Walker, 1971: "I have indicated I will undertake an immediate and vigorous program to make a workable mass transit system a reality in our community."

— Kelly, 2021: "From bus routes to sidewalks, Chattanoogans need a city government that brings experience and expertise to bear on transit infrastructure."

— Walker, 1971: "I have pledged an unceasing effort to bring our country together so that we may work in unity to solve our problems, with understanding and the preservation of human dignity."

— Kelly, 2021: "Chattanooga succeeds when we work together in the spirit of transparency, and seize the opportunity to become the best city in the country. ... Successful community development starts by empowering neighborhood advocates and associations, such that residents co-create the future for what their specific neighborhood needs."

The times have changed. Walker said in one short news story what Kelly said with thousands and thousands of words on a website. But the meaning is the same. The city still has challenges, and both men meant to meet them.

When Walker chose to step down after one term, the former editor of this page said this: "[H]is administration has not been a 'golden age.' It has been a difficult one of many serious problems, clashes, conflicts and tough decisions. Every choice has not been perfect and all mistakes have not been avoided. Such a situation is virtually impossible. ... But through it all, Mayor Walker's character has been evident and his desire to serve well has been paramount."

We hope Mayor-Elect Kelly comports himself in the same way so we can say the same about him when his term ends.