Tim Kelly, betting heavily on himself by spending over $1 million of his own money and divesting of a widely respected auto dealership in order to be fully focused, was hailed as a winner Tuesday night. The personable Kelly was greeted with open arms as Chattanooga’s newest Mayor when he outlasted another quite capable candidate, Kim White. In what was expected to be a nose-to-nose runoff election, Kelly won handily, galloping away with over 60 percent of the vote. The unofficial difference was Kelly’s 15,966 votes to White’s 10,661 finish, causing the gutty Kelly to declare himself an early winner with just 20 percent of the precincts reporting.
Jenny Hill, a liberal type who has happily discovered she can make Chattanooga city politics into something of “a cottage industry,” won the District 2 race for the City Council while retaining her seat on the Hamilton County School Board.
In a third run-off election, Isiah Hester eased ahead of Dennis Clark in District 5.
Kelly, a 54-year-old Ivy League-educated graduate of Baylor School, will be sworn into office next Monday and he will be considered a Godsend to some after a dismal eight-year reign by the unpopular Andy Berke. His ghastly two terms will be remembered by a tawdry scandal and the embarrassment when Chattanooga was named as the fourth Worst-Run City in the United States, among the FBI’s “Top 25 Most Dangerous Cities in the United States” (per capita), the loathsome ‘bike lanes,’ and a hermit-like rule where City Hall has become harder to access than an Iron-Curtain country.
Already Kelly has named Berke’s former Chief Operating Officer to a similar position in his administration, which is admittedly bothersome to the conservatives, but Kelly has maintained Brent Goldberg “will not be a problem. Brent is a capable guy and he’s been a great addition as we begin our First 100 Days in office.” Both Kelly and his opponent, White, have repeatedly praised many of the city’s present-day 2,300 employees.
White had the overwhelming backing of Chattanooga’s business leaders, but Kelly has maintained a well-earned respect after his Chattanooga FC soccer success and his Honda motorsports (recreation vehicles) are regarded as the best in the Nation. As in business, Kelly has been tireless in the campaign and said at the close of the polls last night, “Ginny (his wife) and I feel good in that we’ve done everything we can do to win. For the past three months we’ve met so many people worked seven days a week … at this point it is God’s will (what the votes will disclose) but Ginny and I already want to represent all of the people of Chattanooga as never before,” he told a television reporter.
Kelly has been active in Chattanooga’s civic circles, especially in leadership roles with many philanthropic non-profits. He is expected to be a more “progressive” leader than White appeared to the public and most of the other candidates in the mayor race wholeheartedly endorsed Kelly in the run-off. Kelly has said he will retain David Roddy as the police chief and is believed to have made some rather “forced” promises to a black coalition, including black clergy, several Saturdays ago. It was said the coalition forced Kelly to admit he was “white,” according to one eyewitness, and insisted on other racially motivated promises.
Yet race was ignored by Kelly in his gracious acceptance speech. Instead, he spoke of ‘One’ Great City. "Chattanoogans from every walk of life came together to choose a better way forward. A way forward that ensures every child in our community has access to the early education opportunities they need to succeed. A way forward that will begin to close the opportunity gap between our neighbors. A way forward that brings every community to the table around our common purpose as Chattanoogans, instead of dividing us along the same old partisan lines that too often keep us distant and bitter toward one another. Together, we chose One Chattanooga," Kelly told his jubilant supporters.
"Our city's public health and the health of our economy are linked together, that's why my administration will prioritize ensuring our vaccination efforts are effective and don't leave our most vulnerable communities behind. As we get vaccines into arms, the city will quickly transition to a recovery plan to jumpstart our economy and make sure that good jobs and economic opportunity remain the cornerstone of our economic development strategy,” the victor said.
Kelly repeated Chattanooga can be the best city in America. “Chattanooga has this potential because of her truly extraordinary people, people who value this place, and our common purpose, more than they value themselves. I've never been more grateful to have met and heard from so many of them. And I'll continue to do so in the months and years ahead."
Kelly and White both seemed to relish the civility of the half-year spent campaigning. “That’s what this campaign has been about -- our city, what makes it special and how together we can build on what we have,” the 60-year-old White was gracious. “We may be disappointed in the outcome, but we share an optimism for our wonderful city … I stand here saying that this campaign has truly been a highlight of my life. I am proud to have been part of this journey where I got to meet and engage with people all across our community. People who love this city and want to be part of making it better.”
There is no doubt Tim Kelly and Kim White love our city. Right now, it is Kelly who will bask in the sun but, come Monday at 10 a.m., the prayer and the promise is that we will together as ‘One.’
Therein lies today’s blessing.