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Chattanooga has often needed a knight in shining armor, a political visionary who could see beyond the tattered remains of a once proud city. The city’s modern mayors—Jon Kinsey, Bob Corker and Ron Littlefield—all rode in on horses of different colors with bullet-point agendas that moved the chess pieces forward in the aftermath of Gene Roberts’ long, unprecedented (and never to be repeated) reign. Now comes Andy Berke, annointed and seemingly pre-destined (if not pre-ordained) to lead the Scenic City to the proverbial next level.
When we last tuned in, Corker ran off with that flag, escaping to a U.S. Senate seat having taken a victory lap in a car driven by others on a slow if “heroic drive.” Having reinvented itself and reclaimed its rightful (and self-annointed) title as ... pick one, they are coined almost every week ... the city now has many fathers eager to claim paternity as the guiding hand of providence.
And so we arrive in 2013, patting ourselves collectively on the back for our wonderous revival only to be confronted by the challenges faced by all cities—crime and violence, decay and neglect, economic circumstance and reality. With all that is right about Chattanooga—and there is much right, with no shortage of cheerleaders—there is much wrong.
Andy Berke’s “Renew Chattanooga” campaign claims not a panacea, but a transparent and holistic remedy, as best we can figure. When The Pulse and other news organizations ask for specifics, he offers broad strokes and outlines. Our concerns are those of every dweller of the city and its suburbs, but our focus as a newspaper is narrowed by the scope of our coverage and the limitations of our influence. By that we mean, of course, the arts, culture and politics of Chattanooga, subjects we have tirelessly devoted our pages to since launching in 2003.
With regard to the arts, we are comfortable with Berke, 44, who says had he not been an attorney or a politician he would have pursued a career as a film director. Berke says he values the arts and counts them as integral to the city’s growth, an intangible asset for those seeking to relocate here, whether they be ordinary men or women, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs or businesses. And we believe him.
On much else—the specifics of what hands he would play, what cards he would keep or discard—he is less direct. For instance, he won’t say if he will dismantle the much-criticized Arts, Education & Culture Department administered by the embattled Missy Crutchfield (daughter of Ward, whose state senate seat Berke won in a 2007 special election). He also won’t say if he’ll lease or sell the Tivoli or Memorial Auditorium, nor will he firmly endorse the broad sentiment that alcoholic beverages should be allowed within those venues.
Such are the spoils of a race that never was. When he speaks of his broad, grassroots support and the unity behind his campaign, Berke allows himself the mantle of opacity to the disgruntlement of more than a few Chattanoogans who see him as another link in a chain of liberal spenders with, in his case, an eye on a prize distant from the concerns of most humble locals.
With little alternative, we tacitly accept Berke’s vague vision. We share his basic premise, but are cautiously optimistic at a point in time when we might otherwise have been enthusiastically enthralled.