Almost four years ago, we gathered at the Tivoli Theater to write the next chapter of the Chattanooga story.
All of us know the prologue. 20th century Chattanooga had become a dying city. Jobs left, shuttered-up storefronts came. And then, working together, we had fought hard to rebuild our city.
The next chapter, I said then, was to empower every Chattanoogan to write their own story. All of us -- businesses, non-profits, churches, and city government -- had to come together to make that happen.
Since then, we have made tremendous strides. Today, we have a 21st century city where many more Chattanoogans can write their own stories.
It starts, as it always does, with our economy.
In four years, unemployment has fallen dramatically, from 8.1 percent in May of 2013 to 4 percent in May of 2016.
Families are bringing more money home, thanks to the third highest wage growth in the country for a mid-sized city.
We’ve seen a building boom downtown and in our surrounding communities. But we also have seen the highest rise in home prices in the mid-South, a sign of growing buying power for more Chattanoogans.
These are great results. No other city in Tennessee—and very few in the country—can claim them. But as important as they are, it’s how we got them that matters more.
Four years ago, I talked about the need to build new bridges in our community—bridges of trust, of shared prosperity. All of what I’ve just described is happening because we built those bridges—together.
From our largest businesses to our most struggling communities, city government is working harder than ever to be a good partner. We have teamed with companies like Volkswagen to grow our economy, and we’ve worked with developers to bring quality, affordable housing to our community. Working with churches, we have built an early education reading initiative throughout the city. Alongside our non-profits, we have opened a new Family Justice Center to support victims of domestic violence.
When our citizens have good-paying jobs, when we’re opening the doors of education to all, and when families are safe, together, in their homes, more Chattanoogans can write their own story.
Many cities would say, that’s good enough. But that’s not the city we are.
Public safety remains a priority. Violent crime and property crimes have fallen over the past four years. The challenge before us now is the scourge of gun violence. Too many young people have too many illegal guns on too many of our streets. The violence affects not only those directly involved, but the homes and businesses around them.
Gun violence must stop. It must. When a mother buries a teenage son lost to gangs, when a pregnant mom is shot on the street to settle a score, we know we must do more.
And here, I must pause to praise the hardest-working people I know, the brave men and women who make up our first responders. When shots are fired, when an EMS crew is needed, our police and firefighters are the first on the scene. And they are the last to leave, caring for victims and witnesses alike, restitching the fabric of our community.
The problems we see on our streets start early. Our city’s public process, Chattanooga 2.0, has pointed out the difficult path our kids face—on the streets, in our school system, and in the job market.
So the challenges are there.
But here’s the thing. After three and a half years on the job, I know we can make progress. I have seen it happen. And you have, too.
I have watched the parents learning computer skills at a Tech Goes Home class; heard from mothers who have gotten a job because of Baby University; witnessed citizens who have dropped everything to comfort the family of a fallen hero; and listened to veterans whose lives are changed by moving into an apartment.
Yes, a lot has been done, and yes there is more to do. But we are on the right path, and I have more confident than ever before that we can improve our city together.
A city that has worked so hard to build bridges can take the next step—and ensure that every single one of our citizens can get across them. To prosperity, yes, but also to safety. To opportunity. To the place of their hopes and dreams—right here.
That’s why today, I am announcing my bid for reelection as Mayor of Chattanooga.
I am convinced we can do more to help kids get off to a good start in life. We can’t be surprised when they have problems at 16 and 17 when they entered kindergarten behind their classmates.
A city that builds bridges needs to make sure our kids can cross to the jobs of tomorrow. Will you join a campaign that says every child in Chattanooga should enter kindergarten ready to learn?
Jobs are here, in our city. Yet too many go unfilled simply because we don’t have the workers with the skills required. We need to build more paths to the middle class so people in every neighborhood have access to opportunity.
A city that builds bridges needs to make sure that those with willing hearts and hands—and heads—can cross to the economy of tomorrow. Will you join a campaign that’s fighting to grow our middle class?
There are simply too many guns on our streets in the hands of those willing to do harm. Our gang violence, with the easy access to dangerous firearms, hurts families and businesses in neighborhoods where people are trying to build a better life.
A city that builds bridges needs to make sure those who carry illegal guns with the intent to harm others can’t cross the street, much less anywhere else. Will you join a campaign that keeps illegal guns off our streets and punishes those who use them?
With a new park being built in Alton Park, a new center planned for Avondale, and a reimagined Miller Park, we know neighborhoods need investment in every part of town. By putting in more sidewalks, working to combat blight, and improving our infrastructure, we can strengthen every corner of our community.
A city that builds bridges needs to make sure they cross every stream in every part of our community. Will you join a campaign that says every street in Chattanooga should have a high quality of life?
Today’s politics is too divisive and too negative. On a national level we watch as talking heads hurl insults and campaigns sling mud. Yet, here, we know we have made progress by choosing community action over petty words.
A city that builds bridges has citizens who want to see their neighbors who live across the way, who want the street across town to get better and aren’t afraid to seek someone else’s suggestions on improving their own.
Will you join a campaign that says we are at our best when we are united no matter who we are and where we live?
Chattanooga has the fastest, cheapest, most pervasive internet in the world and the first Innovation District in a mid-sized city. Yet there are still kids who don’t have access to today’s technology while building tomorrow’s skills. We have all the pieces to be an example for how technology can improve lives for families; it’s time to fit them together to make the puzzle a beautiful picture.
A city that builds bridges cannot tolerate a digital divide. Will you join a campaign that says Chattanooga should be the nation’s example for how technology can build a fairer city?
Join with me. Join this campaign. Keep building bridges. And keep working to get all of our citizens across to the other side.
The next chapter of the Chattanooga story is waiting to be written.
All of us here have the power to write it together.
To send Andy questions, comments or concerns, please fill out the form below.
© 2012 Andy Berke. All Rights Reserved.
Paid for by Berke for Mayor, Cari Henderson, Treasurer Contact Andy