Andy Berke, presumably the mayor to be, has shaped his campaign along the theme “Renew Chattanooga;” an effort, it appears, that aims at breaking away from the past four years of Chattanooga history which has become marred by the cronyism and the vindictiveness that has characterized the Littlefield administration. Under Berkian leadership, we are led to believe, this cronyism would be replaced by a transparent and effective government that seeks to solve Chattanooga’s most plaguing problems not from the standpoint of the privileged few but from the vantage point of the everyday person’s boots on the ground.
It is refreshing then that Berke seems to practice what he preaches on the campaign trail . A quick glance at the campaign staff reveals faces of various hues, of both sexes, and all notably 40ish or under. Taking cues from President Kennedy some 40 years ago and President Obama of recent years, the Berke administration seeks to be characterized by youthful vigor and a call for all citizens, and particularly young people, to commit themselves anew to the vision of making our city “the best mid-size city in America.” It is notable, then, that Berke would be one of the youngest mayors in Chattanooga history, some 23 years younger than the current mayor; interestingly akin to Kennedy and Obama who both also assumed executive office in their early 40’s.
All of this raises a couple of quick points: 1.) When most people think of local government they think of the mayor as the pivotal figure around which all decisions derive; and 2.) People expect the Council to take their cues from the mayor, but not be beholden to him; which is much like a awkward song and dance where you are not always sure who is doing the leading and who is following. All of which leads to the pressing question, especially since we know so little about what Berke will actually do once elected: is what sort of Council will be elected in 2013? How do we honestly expect a Berke Administration to properly carry out its plans if there is a Council that does not share his ideas of movement and renewal? There are only two responses: either a.) the Council will fight him at every turn, or b.) they will give in to him at every turn.
Either response in my opinion is unacceptable. (I know there are some who think otherwise; however, experience teaches me that neither is preferred if the sole task is to get something done. Even those on the extreme of both sides of any issue can agree, if on nothing else, that they do not want to see taxpayer dollars wasted in a sea of political inactivity. Think Washington.)
Let’s take District 8, the seat that I have had the privilege and the honor to serve in for the last four years. Throughout my tenure as Councilman, I have heard people say that “its good to have a young person in this seat. It’s time for this generation to assume leadership,” and “We need new ideas, fresh blood. It’s good you are on Council,” or even, “It’s a shame that we have an administration that is not as forward thinking as it could be. It would be great to have younger person in leadership in the mayor’s office.”
In light of these comments, I find it quite ironic that I, the youngest person elected in the history of City Council, am running against one of the oldest in the history of candidates for City Council. But age here is not the most pressing issue. Perspective is. If there is a clear distinction between us it is that Mr. Freeman speaks from a certain generation as I do from mine. I ask the question: which of the two is best able to fulfill the vision of “renewing Chattanooga?”
It is apparent that what is in focus here is the perception of our more senior generation in relation to younger people in leadership, particularly black Chattanoogans. And it is hurtful to our community at large to encourage young leadership one minute and to decry it as invalid for no other reason but expediency’s sake under the guise of “experience” (and most especially during political election cycles). It is important that we acknowledge that certain leaders brought value to their day and new leaders should be given the same opportunity to bring value to theirs. I do not doubt in the slightest that Freeman was a leader in the 1960s. What’s in question is whether he is truly a leader for 2013 and next decade.