Chattanooga voters rejected a local economy mayor candidate in favor of keeping an incumbent of the party of Hillary Clinton, a mayor whose warchest rivaled that of the Department of Defense and whose media blitz melted their hearts.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
They re-elected Andy Berke to a second term in office, a married Democrat lawyer alleged to have had an affair with an office staffer, four months after having taking part in a Donald Trump-led election upset slashing into Democrat party and establishment mainstream media comfort zones.
They overwhelmingly rejected, among three rivals, Dave Crockett, who most closely made the local economy arguments and would have been the best mayor to operate within a local economy and free market paradigm.
Mr. Berke pulled 11,991 votes. The three challengers rank as follows with all ballots counted. Mr. Grohn won 4,941 votes, Mr. Crockett 1,438 and Chris Long 407.
Since the conservative oriented challengers did not pull 50% of the vote plus one, Mr. Berke avoids a runoff.
“This was not a humiliating defeat for me,” Mr. Crockett says. “I am not running to be somebody like the current mayor. I am somebody. I have a better record than he will amass in his next four years. And I’m proud of that. And I love the city above myself. That’s something different from him.”
Led by low turnout, special interests
City elections are timed to give strong influence to special interests in that they occur after a presidential election when anger fatigue and a momentary exhaustion of politics assures a low turnout. Indeed, embittered Democrat political donors, humiliated by Mrs. Clinton’s defeat, thickly laid gift checks into Mr. Berke’s unzippered purse. His campaign war chest was 30 times that of Mr. Crockett and 15 times larger than that of Mr. Grohn. Size does matter.
For a day, this staggering disproportion of campaign cash lifts a small southern city above the billows and waves of national politics, and a would-be national figure Mr. Berke flashes briefly into the sunlight as a signal of hope for party faithful.
In keeping Mr. Berke, voters believed Mr. Berke’s commercials suggested he is a man with a heart, that his rule of the city accomplishes many good things such as finding homes for veterans, that his appeal to viewers’ emotions is an appeal to what truly matters to them and that if they vote for Andy Berke not only will the city and its life stand sure and secure, but their personal affairs, their personal well-being, will, as well. Political consultants and coaches have let Mr. Berke turn his natural gifts into a seemingly unmarred talent for genuineness, authenticity, intelligence, professionalism and superiority.
The Berke campaign used the impressionist painters’ broad-brush rather than the Dutch masters’ rendering in excruciating detail. Mr. Berke is supposed to be absorbed by the voter in a glance, in the work of a moment, not by close study. That task is done through what philosophy calls the “affections,” or the emotions. When we hear about the “office of early learning” we know Mr. Berke cares about education in a city served by county schools. Of his baby university, a city-sponsored program, we learn it is a non-profit program handling it and that 22 families improved their housing since being part of the program and that 28 families got car seats. If those large numbers don’t cause us to choke back our emotions, the tear in the veteran’s eye tells more that Mr. Berke’s qualifications are good, even though he went to the University of Chicago.
Democrats are to be judged not on measurable results, but on their intent, not on their substance but on the number of bullet points that reveal their comprehensive claims for support in public mercy.
Mr. Crockett lacked the high-tech advice of the kind Mr. Berke used to produce a nearly total Internet and TV presence. Anyone opening Facebook sees a Berke commercial programmed to him. I was served repeatedly the veterans ad.
Mr. Crockett relied on the older basics: Signs, speeches, TV and press reports of speeches and position statements, talk shows with Jeff Styles, gabbing about downtown and meeting people, and last-minute radio advertising. With F$13,000, he did not have a budget to push well-done videos online that seem lost on his campaign website. Mr. Berke’s exhaustive analysis of his enemies let him outflank them even in the men’s room. A Google search on “Dave Crockett election website” offers first Andyberke.com.
Mr. Crockett is a management consultant to big companies, but in seeking election he relied on older frameworks that might have worked had they been backed with savvy digital and political consultants. For example, his belief in being remembered by voters for his work on City Council in the 1980s and 1990s. Though his accomplishments from that time helped make Chattanooga the environmental city, the memory of voters. Mr. Crockett, in many respects part of the progressive school, brought environmentalism to Chattanooga and wrote it in big letters across the city council chamber.
Mr. Crockett’s personal way of getting mayors and newspaper editors to back his projects remains important. But public discourse isn’t led as it used to be 25 years ago. Centers of influence have shifted and become diminished; opinion gatekeepers such as newspaper editorial pages no longer rivet public attention. If social media makes everybody a commentator and clickbait wins, professional writers and editorialists find it harder to win an ear, and members of the public are given less “advice” than they once were with curated media such as mine.
Police lodges, teachers and trade unions, and the liberal and conservative editorial pages of the newspaper supported Mr. Berke, mostly to guard rich retirement schemes and special privileges. I backed Mr. Crockett because of his fundamental agreement with the ideas of local economy and free markets, which range from urban farming and local ownership of business to respect for the individual and constitutional government.
Rejecting local economy en masse
Not only does Mr. Crockett favor our conception of a freedom of the marketplace and even making the city a free trade zone (a topic he didn’t directly address), but he went farther — espousing the idea of the independent city-state, of local or regional self-determination. He views cities as organic wholes, as does Jane Jacobs in her estimable 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Mr. Crockett is noogacentric enough in his thinking that he believes Chattanooga, in and of itself, and its people can and should strongly identify with the place — the geography, the bend in the river under the shadow of great hills — that makes the city unique.
The city is at the center of his conception of problems and solutions; problems are to be solved locally and the idea of waste, he argued, is to be fought down to zero, starting with the waste of human capital. Though he sounds like a Great Society politician, his localism and provincialism save him from the superiority of progressives such as Mr. Berke.
Mr. Berke is typical of ideologically motivated moderns in many respects. Local media outlets he dislikes are harshly written off. I confronted campaign manager Tyler Yount at the Eastgate Town Center debate and asked him why he did not respond to email. “I got your emails,” he said. He was going through finger food offerings at a loaded table, and was stabbing at bread and cheese. The mayor should advertise on Noogaradio 1240 AM to get all my conservative listeners to vote for him, since he had been endorsed by the conservative editorial page of the newspaper, thus implying an affinity, I said. I offer a terrific rates and access to a great audience, I pressed on. Mr. Yount studiously ignored me; though he had shaken my hand, he did not look further at me, nor offer a further slight civility to this bow-tied and scuffily shod defender of marriage and capitalism.
A better policy would have been more liberal: Schmooze a hostile journalist, give him a tidbit, make him feel a good story might be coming just for him, one tailored for his prejudices, make him feel that his work is widely read and considered and that even though he is disliked, his words are not without hearers and even that he is feared by some in the administration. That would be a better tack, to pacify all media outlets and eventually to win their silence, if not their favor.
The media in Chattanooga has given thin and sketchy service for readers and viewers. So it’s easy for regular people to have overlooked Mr. Crockett as a genuine localist alternative to the skimming an opportunistic party politics as usual and a mayor whom, as he says, “is a house of sticks.”