Dennis Clark and Isiah Hester, two Chattanooga residents passionate about equity and opportunity, are competing to represent District 5 on the City Council in April’s election.
Neither candidate was able to win a majority of the votes in the March 2 election, when three other candidates were still in the race. So now, the two top vote-getters will face off in an April 13 runoff election to fill the seat being vacated by Councilman Russell Gilbert. The district includes Bonny Oaks, Dalewood, Lake Hills and nearby communities.
Here are some of the contrasts between the candidates and their promises to the community:
Clark, a business owner and vice chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, says he would make the best councilman because of his experience creating policies in the community.
Given his time with the party, past experiences running for office and work with the Equity Alliance, Clark says he has learned to cultivate relationships with community leaders and stakeholders to affect real change.
“I have been working with community members and building those relationships in Chattanooga and in District 5 for a long time, so I know how to bring people together and actually get things done,” Clark said Monday. “I’ve worked with a lot of people on a lot of issues our city really cares about, and that’s exactly what I would do if elected.”
Clark said that his partnership-building skills — demonstrated by significant community endorsements, including that of outgoing Councilman Russell Gilbert — would help him pass important policies if elected.
“Things like equity and food security and crime reduction have to happen because they impact our entire district, and really the city, every day,” Clark said. “And I think the thing that sets me apart is there is already a coalition of community leaders ready to work with me, because they’ve worked with me before and they know what I’ve accomplished.”
Using those connections, Clark says he will create a community development corporation, or CDC, which is a nonprofit group to coordinate the district’s business community to encourage small business growth and development.
“Under that CDC, we will establish the District 5 Chamber of Commerce, and we will create the Food Access and Equity Task Force, and we’re going to also create what’s called a Women’s Leadership Council,” Clark said.
His other top focus will be crime reduction, a personal issue for Clark.
“This is something near and dear to my heart because I had a brother who was a victim of gun violence, and I really don’t believe we have a comprehensive violence reduction initiative,” said Clark, whose brother who was fatally shot in 2016.
“And I really think in order to reduce violence, you have to create opportunities, and so I’m going to propose what’s called the opportunity investment plan,” Clark said. “In that, we will help young men get access to workforce development opportunities. And I really do believe that when you create more opportunities, you are preventing crime.”
When they vote, Clark says he hopes the people of District 5 will ask themselves, “Who is the best prepared and best qualified to lead our district?”
“And I think if people look hard enough, they’ll realize I am in the best position to help move this district forward,” he added.
On his website, Clark says he will focus on:
Advancing public education
Clark says he wants to focus on preparing children for education through middle school and high school, going beyond the city’s current role of early childhood development. Clark says he supports the community schools model and promoting equity in education, noting “we must make sure that everyone in city and county government is engaged in ensuring our neighborhood children are receiving a world-class education.”
Reform policing practices
Clark says he appreciates law enforcement officers and supports the work they do, “but police violence against African Americans must end and will not be tolerated in Chattanooga.”
He says he will lobby for local and state laws outlining the use of force, to have the county district attorney’s office hold police and the police department accountable for brutality and to fund training programs that tackle racism and injustice in community policing.
End gun violence epidemic
Clark calls gun violence “a public health crisis in Chattanooga” which is “systematically destroying African American communities.” To address the issue, he says he will create a violence reduction initiative that addresses mental health and socioeconomic contributing factors to gun violence.
Clark says he will advocate for Chattanoogans in every community to have equal access to “all city services and opportunities that tax-generated revenue are used to help improve communities.”
In District 5, where Clark says citizens are not receiving proportionate funds, he will try to get funding for more public works projects, beautification of parks and greenspaces, neighborhood street scaping, more social programs promoting the general welfare and safety of residents and infrastructure improvements such as paving and sewer issues.
Clark also says he will fight to close down predatory lending companies in the district.
Fighting racial inequality in gentrification
Clark identifies as “pro business and pro development but against displacement.”
To avoid displacement and adverse development, Clark says he will “promote policies and enact ordinances that protect tenants and lower-income residents from displacement” and will “work hard to create more homeownership opportunity for renters in District 5,” namely to protect people of color and low-income renters.
Hester says he is a father, fourth-generation minister and business owner who is the best fit for the open council seat due to his honesty and listening skills, cultivated in his time as a faith leader.
“Most folks will tell you I’m trustworthy, I’m honest and I listen to them,” Hester said Thursday. “And I am not in the race for self-interest. My special interest will be the interest of District 5.”
Citing advice from his father, Hester says that he uses that honesty to form valuable relationships with those around him, which he believes will strengthen the district.
“You always have to be honest, look a man or woman in the eye and shake their hand and seek the counsel of God,” Hester said. “I want to use that to build bridges and be a collaborator.”
That’s where he says the listening and people skills he has gained as an associate minister will come in handy.
“I’m willing to listen because, when you’re an associate minister, you’re not preaching every Sunday, but you do listen to your parishioners and what they’re feeling,” Hester said. “I try to encourage them, to edify them and to build them up.”
Similarly, Hester says he would be an open and helpful council member, treating his constituents with the same attention and support.
“I have an open-door policy and, as I’ve been canvassing, folks are calling me on my phone and they can’t believe I actually give them my personal phone,” Hester said. “And that’s how it’ll be if I’m elected.”
In addition to giving his constituents a seat at the table through allowing input, Hester says he will strive to create more equitable opportunities for community members, leveling the playing field in more tangible ways.
“I will create a blue-ribbon merchant committee so that folks can get engaged and understand the economic progress in our district,” he said. “We’ll have a community watchdog watching over our businesses to protect our economy.”
Hester also says he will promote equity by providing access to childcare, higher wages for city employees and providing small business development support.
“I think people like someone who’s honest, someone who’s going to be dependable, someone who’s going to be a voice and someone who’s going to bridge folks together,” Hester said. “We’ve got more in common than we have differences, in most districts.
“So I want us to find that commonality, that common ground, and build from there.”
On his website, Hester says he will prioritize:
Early childhood education
Hester says he will work to expand access to the city’s early childhood development programs for families of up to four earning $75,000 or less and says the city also “must ensure subsidized costs of child care for working-class families.”
Hester says he will promote community policing and encourage the implementation of police accountability policies like 8 Can’t Wait, adding “we all deserve to feel safe and secure in our neighborhoods. We can start to fix some of District 5’s problems with public safety by working together to enhance accountability in police training and management.”
Infrastructure and transportation
If elected, Hester says he will advocate for more sustainable and equitable infrastructure across District 5 and will also work to provide available and affordable public transportation to all community members.
In his first 100 days, Hester says he will:
* Create a food insecurity task force made up of community members, local leaders and experts to address the issue of the closing of Walmart Neighborhood Market and form a plan to address food insecurity in the district.
* Plan and host public safety forums to allow citizens to address matters of safety in the district
* Perform a personal survey of stormwater runoff and flooding in the district to prioritize the areas in District 5 most affected and work with the city’s Department of Public Works to plan improvements.
* Form a council made up of small business owners throughout District 5.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.