Roy Exum: A ‘Full Throttle’ Finish

Sunday, April 11, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Alabama football coach Bear Bryant had a pre-game ritual where just before a game, he’d take his quarterbacks on a short walk around the courthouse square in whatever town the Tide was playing. Bryant wouldn’t say much, and the players wouldn’t say a word unless they were called on. The first time Joe Namath took the fabled walk, he purposefully trailed Coach by a step or two. Bryant said nothing until the slow-marching group got to the far side of the courthouse and Bryant finally said, “Joe … you ready?”

Namath flashed a smile and nodded his head, “I think so,” and, Lord have mercy, Bryant wheeled on him like a stepped-on cat. “You THINK! We’re past THINK! The hay is in the barn, boy! By now you got to KNOW!!” Hey, and ‘by now’ Namath is doing the St. Thaddeus dance. “Yes sir, Coach Bryant! Yessir I KNOW! We’re ready, Yes Sir!” Bryant didn’t say another word until the small group stepped off the curb. Then he glared at Namath and spat a syrupy, “You THINK!”

Well, Alabama beat whoever they were playing that afternoon by half-a-hundred, but I’d bet a donkey against a gypsy blanket this morning that both of our mayoral candidates in Tuesday’s winner-take-all run-off election KNOW they are going to take the oath of office a scant six days later next Monday morning at 10 o’clock. Both Kim White and Tim Kelly have politicked full throttle for over 200 straight days and neither will admit their feet hurt.

To be candid, this has probably been my favorite election in the years I’ve studied city government because the citizens of Chattanooga are winners by default – either one will be a great breath of resuscitation for a wonderful medium-sized city awakening from a party-induced coma. Chattanooga has paid a huge price for treading water the past eight years and the rebirth of vitality that both Kim and Tim promise in the way of jobs, infrastructure, relations with county and state offices, and out-and-out progress is glorious.

I have said, more than once, that if I were in this race and won, the very next morning the first person I would hire would be the first runner-up. That’s how strongly I admire and respect the both of them. Barring that, I would hope Kim and Tim could talk about the people in each camp they agree is a “bloomer,” a new face who feels strongly about what is best for our city … check that … for “us,” and capitalize on this newly discovered wealth.

Because of the run-off, there’s literally less than a week to load the wagon but don’t fret about the mule; Kim laid that burden to bed yesterday when she said, “Chattanooga’s had 61 mayors and that’s never been a problem … there are 2,300 employees working for the city and let me tell you, there are some really fine people who aren’t going anywhere. Sure, they’ll be some new faces and some new ways we’ll approach things but, remember, these city employees are also Chattanoogans who deeply want what’s best for their communities.”

In my thinking the biggest difference between the candidates is their approach to the mayorship. White, who would become the first female mayor in the city’s history, is more conservative than the liberal Kelly. Tim is more of the new “woke” school of thought and, please, that isn’t said in an unkind way. I’d expect nothing less with his Ivy League degree from Columbia University or his MBA from the free-thought halls of Emory, but the fact White is a UTC grad, and has a dozen or so years with RiverCity, seems to fit Chattanooga more comfortably for the majority of us and right now I am thinking we need a state(woman) in the worst way.

The two candidates have taken separate roads to get this far; Kelly has invested a million-plus of his own money because he believes in himself so fervently. White, on the other hand, has over a million in donations. From money people? To an extent, because she’s the darling of those who have invested heavily in Chattanooga, “but I was staggered to learned over 50 percent of my donations were from supporters to gave me $250 or less to fulfill my dream. I must tell you; I am truly humbled by such support,” she says.

Under the present administration the Chamber of Commerce has taken – or been given -- the lead into luring jobs inside the city and, after Bill Kilbride stepped away, that hasn’t produced much of a crop. “I fully believe the Mayor’s office is where new business must originate,” White reasoned. “The very first thing the City must do is make city government a welcoming place. If elected, the Mayor’s door will open early and greet every person who comes to visit.

The so-called Urban Design Studio under Berke’s rule has been catastrophic -- witness the Publix fiasco – and the Regional Planning Agency is an awkward embarrassment; I wouldn’t dare venture a business in Chattanooga or Hamilton County with such a backward crowd of bullies – they forced Publix to submit over a dozen site plans on South Broad Street and not one city or county politician stood up to the egotistic morons. And you actually wonder why Chattanooga’s job are flat? “We’ve got to make it easy and pleasant to do business in Chattanooga,” said White.

Precisely, the new mayor must destroy the roadblock of “good government” because it ain’t. The laughable bike lanes on Broad Street, cutting the major ingress and egress roads into the city from four to two lanes, the traffic ensnarement at UTC on McCallie Avenue – when safety screams for an overhead pedestrian way – it begs for the city to return to common sense. “The new development for the waterfront is a forward step and we need to take a rational look at getting a better solution,” Kim agreed.

“I’m not a big fan of dial 3-1-1. I want our citizens to talk to a real live person and get results. But I want the people who call to get a return phone call and form a partnership instead of a one-way street. Not only is that not too much to ask, but our residents also … and our neighborhoods … deserve that,” she said. “Listen, I know what I aspire to do for this city, but the past 215 days have provided me with invaluable lessons that will enable me to be a far greater chief executive for our city than I ever thought,” she said, her voice still edged with the same excitement it held the day she announced her run at her alma mater – Hixson High School.

“Devoting time to our neighborhoods had definitely enriched my belief that Chattanooga has some problems we hope to rectify quickly but after visiting with the people who live in every neighborhood … and thanks those who have opened their hearts to me … I am convinced that there are more opportunities than I ever dreamed possible.”

During casual conversation, I told Kim the best thing to come out of the pandemic is a resurgence in public health. What’s it been … 10 or 15 years since the nation’s public health departments became orphans?  They were so low in the food chain no one paid attention. Yet with an urgency to vaccinate our nation, the Health Departments were thrust into the spotlight and were woefully unprepared. Now the Hamilton County Health Dept. is running like Secretariat and the city must recognize the necessity to join the county with support.

“Oh, I definitely feel it has been an eye-opener. ‘Preventive health’ could be a huge boon for the city. I have already talked about it with Mayor (Jim) Coppinger, and we definitely need to see what the City can do,” White agreed. “The city is getting $40 million in COVID relief and the county is getting $70 (million). What if we could put that together and so something bigger?”

CARTA needs funding. The illusion the city has worked with CARTA is not what it seems, and the bus service is an integral part of job development. “Bus routes must serve the community and many need to be reworked. Public transportation is vital but also must be viable to the community needs. There is thought CARTA could help with education busing, hospitals where parking is a premium. These are places a new mayor’s administration can bring parties to the table.

“Do you know there are 40 good organizations working to help the homeless, but each is a separate silo. If we could simply coordinate these resources we could make a much larger impact. The same is true with the police – until we can recruit, retain, and train quality officers we fall more behind. And right now, we are losing good people to the smaller municipalities that can give them better salaries and benefits … that’s not right.”

Ah, but what for a better world? This I firmly believe, a week from tomorrow we will swear in a mayor who will ease this big Suez Canal of a roadblock into a forward-moving awakening of our sleeping giant. And what best about it, there is no way the people who love this city can lose.

Vote wisely on Tuesday.

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