Mayoral candidate Chris Long hinted at a free market solution to homelessness at Friday night’s mayoral debate among the four rivals as former council member Dave Crockett drew hisses for refusing obsequies for racial resentment in the death of two blacks hanged from a bridge a century ago.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
The low-key encounter at UTC lasted 90 minutes before more roughly 200 people, with Andy Berke, the Democrat lawyer near the end of his first term, indicating he will continue surveillance- and military-oriented police programs. Larry Grohn, a city council member, and Chris Long, an architectural consultant, generally spoke in favor of existing police practices.
The audience had been shushed at the start of the evening to withhold comment and applause. But members erupted twice. They excoriated Mr. Crockett for not mourning over deaths from racial animus in the mob action, and one listener shouted out the name of Javario Eagle, a young man having a mental episode shot down by police and handcuffed as he lay bleeding to death.
Two challengers made no mention of Mayor Berke’s adulterous affair with a staffer and the divorce-for-cause case against her by her husband. But Mr. Grohn, a member of the city council, alluded to it by calling Mr. Berke, married and the father of two, “morally challenged.”
Mr. Berke, affecting wounded dignity, described the debate has having “tremendous negativity.”
Perhaps the strongest attacks against the mayor came from Mr. Grohn, who said that the mayor’s violence reduction initiative had failed, that Mr. Berke’s housing program had failed, that his workforce development program had failed, and that he had raised F$248,000 as a campaign kitty in the past six months mostly from PACs and remote donors.
Mr. Crockett, refusing on principle even to name Mr. Berke, whipped out the night’s sharpest stab: Mr. Berke’s is “by far the worst administration in the history of the city.”
Striking proposal, timidly stated
The free market solution to homelessness by Mr. Long is significant because it breaks with conventional talk among all parties about “solving the homeless problem.” He is working on a concept of a primitive encampment on lines that have emerged among the challengers — that of my “your shantytown is my housing free trade zone,” familiar with readers of the NoogaRadio and Nooganomics platform
Mr. Long said he has a location in mind for a “primitive campsite,” a transitional place and “staging area where all the churches have one focal point that they can go to” to help the homeless, he said. The Food Bank and Community Kitchen do good a job, but more needs to be done for the homeless. Six churches with resources “could totally eliminate the homeless problem.” With their help, the homeless could get “a ZIP code so they could get an ID,” caseworkers would help them settle, the homeless “could help themselves and they could become productive citizens.” Mr. Long did not identify churches nor reveal the location.
His presentation was halting and seems to have retreated from aspects of the proposal he favored in press interviews, including the prospect of ownership of lots in the designated homeless housing free trade zone.
Meanwhile, Mr. Berke declared he had solved homelessness for veterans in the city, citing a letter from a federal agency declaring the number of rootless ex-military people at zero.
Mr. Grohn accused Mr. Berke of repeating his promises of 2013 because he hadn’t filled them, and insisted that crime in Chattanooga is doubled the national average.
Pressed afterwards by the reporter, Mr. Berke refused to answer questions about whether he plans police reform in light of two rogue cop cases on which his office has refused comment. Everything he had to say about about his police platform already had been mentioned, he said.
Even the conservative Grohn and the libertarian/environmentalist Crockett seemed to frame their presentations in terms of what the mayor’s office and city government can do to benefit the people. No one suggested he is strongly influenced by the idea of free markets over government action, as seeing civil authority as withdrawing from a given sphere of action, to allow for liberty among private and business actors.
There seems to be a general consensus that housing, if not on city property, should be strongly overseen and cajoled by government, that somehow the municipal corporation has an interest in the buying, selling and letting of houses and apartments. City government’s net position in governmental activities in 2016 is F$1.2 billion, with business-type activities at F$718 million, according to its comprehensive annual financial report.
Of all the speakers, Mr. Berke was is the most fluid and expert. His voice projected the best across the audience, and he seemed familiar and versed on everything of which he spoke. His manner was public, filling the room, yet warmly personable and approachable.
His supple manner was a contrast to the uneven presentation by Mr. Long, who believes that repeatedly hammering key points about stormwater rules and general regulations will reveal him as uniquely informed and fierce in his determination.
Mr. Crockett, 71, came across as someone who does not rehearse, a longtime local political figure who knows every part of town and government intimately, and who routinely led big changes. He named some of them, such as visioning processes, school mergers and tax swaps — and got five votes for wins on city council over three terms. His personal style was avuncular and genteel. Mr. Crockett’s storied past helped him little among the younger UTC set, some of whom had not been born when he pushed through big projects. His touting his green credentials before the UTC progressive crowd was subdued. He improved his delivery after yanking his microphone closer to his mouth.
Mr. Grohn’s manner was solid, with a clear and authoritative voice that matched his use of numbers and data. His presentation was policy-oriented and detailed, like the incumbent’s, but he did not give a strong sense of his market-oriented views within the 2-minute limit for each slab of monologue.
Of roofs and walls
Mr. Berke also, perhaps obviously, favors affordable housing. Higher incomes and better housing connect, he said. “So we’ve done a few things to make sure we preserve or build about 1,100 units in the city,” including incentives for construction of “affordable” structures, that term being defined by the U.S. government.
His administration has suffered cuts in federal funding and has to be careful about using it. He also spoke proudly of city hall’s fight against “blight,” which scrapes away the absolute bottom of the market by clearing neglected or abandoned dwellings otherwise usable by squatters. The average Chattanooga Housing Agency resident, he said, earns F$9,000 a year, and no house is affordable for someone that poor unless it’s part of a dole.
Mr. Long said amid the debate over affordable housing, low-income housing is overlooked (the two are different, he says). He boasted that his entry into the race brings light to the housing market and city mismanagement of CHA. He said he attended a meeting Thursday at Alton Park where a developer plans complexes with F$875 a month rent, and “place turned upside down” with people in an uproar over the F$4 million project, he said, cryptically. “I had to calm everybody down. They don’t want it because it’s going to be a failed program.” It was not clear how this encounter illustrated his general statements about the city’s coming together or how fees and taxes misdirect the housing market.
Vision for Chattanooga
Mr. Grohn tended toward hyperbole, citing the “incredible slaughter and maiming of our young people here,” 109 youth in the last few years, he said, insisting that a “large portion of our city is in decay, and it hasn’t been addressed for decades.” There is “no transparency, no accountability” with Mr. Berke, he averred.
Mr. Crockett listed his city accomplishments: New schools, preserving North Chickamauga Creek, beginning the Greenway system. On the council he pushed a plan for a sustainable city that involved many groups. He “initiated the Volkswagen plant” and got the funding for Southside redevelopment and “cut taxes three times, 50 cents each time.” His vision for Chattanooga: “Ten years for now, a high-speed train [from Atlanta] will pull up to the airport and stop.”
Mr. Long, a building and architectural consultant, cited his expertise in building codes. He is “pro-development” and pressed the city on stormwater rules that have an evil economic impact that has helped keep behind 60 percent of the people, and until these people’s needs are addressed, “crime is not going to go away. That’s just a fact. We’ve got to have development, diversity. I want an opportunity for everybody.” He promised to be out and about regularly to meet with people.
Mr. Crockett said the city’s interest in high-speed rail from Atlanta has support from Donald Trump, the federal president having made statements a day earlier about magnetic levitation trains. Mr. Crockett stressed a theme of continuing from the 1990s a green-oriented reforms that would involve innovative thinkers and universities. “Delegations were coming from all over the world to experience the idea of Chattanooga,” he said, “and you will want to be part of it.”
The candidates circled the housing issue, as if mayors somehow are a landlord or builder competing with others. Because the federal dole in housing, the candidates spoke as if housing were a matter of direct mayoral interest.
Mr. Grohn said 75,000 more people will live in the area by 2030. He wants infrastructure and “economic development” to account for this prospective growth. The city is 6,000 housing units short. “This administration in four years has produced one affordable house,” and many dwellings built require F$60,000 incomes to rent. Boosting homeownership is vital, he said, because a house is the basis of family wealth.
Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise
Mr. Crockett said he helped start Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise that used U.S. block grants for lower-end housing, a collaborative that “has done a remarkable job” in Chattanooga. Its goal was “to eliminate all substandard housing, and that is my goal.” Mr. Crockett would create a housing council with a holistic view. He and Bessie Smith looked at poor residents’ high electric bills, and that fueled his green push for energy efficiency. CNE can get people into a house if they earn F$14 an hour, and he has a plan to get people to at least that earnings level. Adult education, vocational education, and a “community revitalization plan” will get people on payrolls, “give people the dignity of a decent job.”
Mr. Berke gave a great deal of attention to discussing UTC and his administration’s dealings with it, especially in the rise of apartment complexes nearby and the innovation district and his classroom talks with students.
Mr. Long didn’t win points with wild statements. He said few local people were hired by VW, he said. Housing was not part of the mayoral race until he entered, he said.
Among the more expansive and unusual propositions were from Mr. Crockett, answering a question about “inequality” and how he would as mayor “narrow the gap” between rich and poor. Speaking “from an opportunity standpoint,” he said, because one cannot guarantee outcomes, only equality of opportunity. Part of that would be to “improve equity,” Mr. Crockett said. “Principles are more important than projects.” Environment, economy education he will improve, “and last and not least we will improve equity. *** Equity. Equity. Are we being fair with opportunity, with every decision, every dollar?”