On this, the last day of 2016, I look back over my shoulder and find that I believe Andy Berke is the worst mayor in Chattanooga’s history. This year has been a huge fiasco. A study just released shows Chattanooga is No. 71 on a list of The 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the United States and, for the record, the United States Geological Survey recognizes 35,000 cities in the country.
What’s worse, we are all aware he can hardly be trusted. He was accused in a series of scandalous improprieties this summer, which – the truth be told – was the hottest story of the year. That’s when it was also revealed he and his staff had encrypted cell phones, of all things. The turnover on his staff has been incredulous, his so-called “ivory tower” once known as City Hall is all but impenetrable, and the public’s confidence has terribly eroded.
That Berke even has the brazen gall to run for re-election is a revelation of his shallow arrogance. It is alleged that two of the principle figures in the scandal – Stacey Richardson and Lacie Stone – both signed his qualifying papers when the fact both women are still members of his cabinet is almost as surprising. Berke has steadfastly denied any misconduct but the events leading up to the divorce between Bobby Stone and his wife were too tawdry to ignore.
Before the scandal, Berke was thought to be the Democratic Party favorite for a run at governor but when Bobby Stone publicly said “Andy Berke is f****** my wife!’ a bid for Nashville got put on hold by floundering party officials. It is widely believed a plan was hatched that would give Andy a “save face” position in Washington with the Clinton administration, allowing things to cool and grow old. Yet after Hillary got Trumped on Nov. 4, the terribly disappointed Berke reluctantly qualified for re-election about a month after the November upset.
The latest bomb to blow up in his face was when “Andy Berke Gives $1 Million To Children’s Hospital.” Are you kidding me? He’s never offered Erlanger as much as a penny for having to absorb $25,000 in indigent fees every time a purported gang member is shot, this easily more than once a week. There is little-to-no doubt his “gift on behalf of Woodmore children” was nothing more than an overtly-sleazy political ruse before the March elections.
Worse, it didn’t take long for the taxpayers to learn the pledge was actually public money – nothing from Andy’s own pile -- and that the City Council was unaware of the handsome donation until they were invited to the photo-op was an affront to the city’s other elected officials. Berke’s actions were inexcusable. How anyone could endorse or support Berke defies both logic and magic. Common sense fled the scene long ago and there isn’t a person on the City Council who can find where the $250,000 is coming from in each of the next four years.
Just this week a website, neighborhood scout.com, announced the top 100 most dangerous cities and Chattanooga, TN., is No. 71 when it comes to felony crime per 1,000 residents. Understand, this is just for cities with populations of 25,000-plus, of which there are roughly 1,500 in the USA. That said, no smaller city in America can match Chattanooga’s dismal numbers.
But can you believe we are right between Miami Beach and New Orleans based on FBI figures? Last year Chattanooga was No. 87 on the “100 Worst” list. To jump ahead of 16 other cities in just one year is even harder to fathom, especially when in all the years before Chattanooga was never on the horrible list. Do you see this is one of many disturbing trends under Andy Berke’s watch?
All told, there are 69.09 crimes annually per 1,000 residents within Chattanooga’s city limits, 9.88 considered as violent. Crimes classified as “violent” include murder, rape, robbery and assault and of cities in the United States with a population of 25,000 or more, the FBI believes the chance of becoming a victim in Chattanooga is one-in-101. That indicates roughly 98 percent of America’s cities are safer than Chattanooga. So much for the Mayor’s Violence Reduction Initiative.
What is equally startling are crimes we don’t hear as much about. Property crimes include burglary, theft, and automobile theft. Chattanooga’s burglary rate per 100,000 is 10.47 compared to 4.91 nationally. Theft is 43.75 compared to 17.75 nationally, and car theft is 4.99 compared to 2.2 nationally. In Chattanooga the chance of becoming a property crime victim is one-in-17, compared to one-in-34 in the other cities in the state with 25,000-plus residents. This is totally unacceptable
Again, according to FBI statistics, in all of the cities in America where the population is over 25,000 Chattanooga is safer than 70 other cities and, in all cities combined, is more dangerous than 34,930. I believe Andy Berke has hurt Chattanooga in other ways but that is yet to come.
The noble thing would have been for him not to run for re-election. The smart thing would be for him to take his name of the ballot and move to California. Then again, no one has ever heard Andy Berke described as noble or smart. Yet during the year 2016 he has repeatedly been called The Worst Mayor in the History of Chattanooga.
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To be fair, a number of Southern cities were on the Top 100. The worst in the nation was East St. Louis, followed by No. 2 Camden, NJ, No. 3 Memphis and No. 4 Alexandra LA.. Birmingham was No. 12 then No. 17 was Myrtle Beach, No. 22 was East Point GA., No. 26 Atlanta, No. 28 Daytona Beach, No. 40 Rivera Beach, FL, No. 45 Nashville, No. 54 Fort Myers, FL, No. 61 Albany GA, and No. 69 Gadsden, AL.
Behind No. 71 Chattanooga are No. 74 Spartanburg, SC, No. 76 Jackson, MS, No. 77 Anderson SC, No. 78 Rocky Mount, NC, No. 82 Tallahassee FL, No. 86 North Miami, No. 88 Baton Rouge, No. 95 Panama City, and No. 97 Orlando.
Chicago, where 3,649 have been shot and another 789 killed in 2016, was not on the list. Neither was New York City or Los Angeles due to such intense populations. But it is official that Chicago has had more shootings this year than New York City and Los Angeles combined.