Isiah “Ike” Hester helped operate a commercial cleaning business for a number of years before entering politics, and he has also served as a church pastor.
Now that he has also begun serving as the new District 5 representative on the Chattanooga City Council, he hopes to use these tidying up and community restoration skills to build upon the city’s accomplishments and focus on needed improvements.
As the 54-year-old amicably chatted over the phone last week as he was leaving a restaurant – where he could be overheard saying hello to several people – he mentioned a long list of ideas he hopes to see implemented.
They include ensuring that more kids are involved with early childhood education, increasing the wages for city workers, making sure young people have opportunities to become entrepreneurs, and helping people feel safe in their homes and their communities.
Smart and equally distributed residential development and older generational mentoring are two other issues important to him.
“One reason I got into running for the City Council is I thought there was a void in District 5, where some of the needs weren’t being met,” he said.
“We’ve been hurt when it comes to economic development and having a voice and all types of opportunities.”
His road to being successfully elected in his district and trying to implement some of these ideas was one that was heavily traveled and featured an additional obstacle or two.
After an unsuccessful run for Hamilton County Commission in 2014, he was one of five candidates this year trying to replace Russell Gilbert, who decided to vacate his Council seat to make an unsuccessful bid for mayor. Then, after Mr. Hester finished second to Hamilton County Democratic Party vice chairman Dennis Clark in the regular election, former Councilman Gilbert endorsed Mr. Clark.
But Mr. Hester focused on determination instead of being deterred, and he was elected over Mr. Clark by a vote of 1,598 to 1,332 in the runoff on April 13.
And now that he has been elected, he is enjoying trying to serve and make a difference in the life-changing position where he gets to be the lead voice of this district located east of the Tennessee River.
“It’s really exciting,” he said of getting to represent such Brainerd areas as Brainerd Hills, Dalewood and Woodmore, such Highway 58 neighborhoods as Lake Hills and Murray Hills, his home neighborhood of Washington Hills near Jersey Pike, and Kings Point near Amnicola Highway, among other communities. “It’s definitely an adjustment, but rewarding, too.”
But it became obvious during the conversation that he does not consider it too big a challenge, as he was raised with high expectations.
He spent his early years on Walker Road in Orchard Knob, but the family of Albert and Mildred Hester moved around to such places as South Carolina, Macon, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis as his father became a construction company owner while also serving as a pastor.
“We came from humble beginnings,” Mr. Hester said. “It was rough at first.”
His full family history could actually make for an additional story or two.
His father’s relatives had been among those involved in the famous Tent City incident of the civil rights movement, where black sharecropping families who had tried to register black voters in the early 1960s in Fayette County, Tn., were kicked out of their homes or blacklisted. They were able to camp on the land of a sympathetic black owner, and the national attention eventually brought improvements to voting registration there.
Mr. Hester was also one of 10 children, and each one went to college, with some eventually adding Ivy League colleges and advanced degrees to their resumes.
“My father stressed faith and education,” said Mr. Hester.
The younger Hester is continuing his education to this day by being an avid reader, he said, adding that he was currently reading two books, including the Chattanooga historical book, “Old Money, New South,” by Dean Arnold.
After attending Northside and Central high schools in Memphis, he enrolled at UTC, where he was in the Student Senate and also was president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
After college, a fraternity brother approached him with the idea of the two starting a commercial cleaning service, and he has done that for a number of years.
He and his wife, Patrice, a Brainerd High graduate whom he met at UTC, have two children and have lived in Washington Hills for 27 years. He has been active with his neighborhood association as vice president, and that set that the stage for an interest in serving in local government.
As he expounded on some of his social goals, they included maybe having grandparents even more involved in mentoring kids, saying young boys and others might listen to them better than even to their own parents. He also sees a need for some police reform with a more personal touch.
“I wish for the day when police officers know the names of kids at the recreation center or the older people at the grocery store,” he said.
And, of course, zoning issues regarding future development are always important for the City Council. In that area, he thinks not enough affordable housing can be found, and he feels some areas are overbuilt.
On the other hand, some places like in his Highway 58 area still have some secluded areas that might be good for residential developments without encroaching on properties around them or causing too much traffic and stormwater runoff issues.
Whatever the zoning issue, he plans to take a common sense approach, he added. “I’ll never vote for any zoning that doesn’t make practical sense,” he said.
He also wants to take a sensical approach to his overall role, saying he simply wants all residents to enjoy all that Chattanooga has to offer.
Mr. Hester said he also wants to offer all his own gifts, adding that he has also spent time over the years - before the pandemic affected churches - serving as an assistant pastor.
In all that he does, this fourth-generation minister tries to let his Christian faith guide him, he said.
“To me there is no reality without God,” he said. “I put God first. As I ran for the City Council, I asked God to help give me wisdom and understanding to give to the people.”
And so far, it has all worked out well on the City Council, he added.
“I love people and enjoy working with people and serving people,” he concluded.
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Editor’s Note: This is the third and concluding story on the three new Chattanooga City Council members elected in 2021.
To see the story on new District 7 Council member Raquetta Dotley, read here.
To see the story on new District 2 Council member Jenny Hill, read here.
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