Before a backdrop of the Walnut Street Bridge and the Tennessee River, outgoing state Sen. Andy Berke said Tuesday he wanted to build Chattanooga's "bridge to the future" as the city's next mayor.
Berke, who announced in February he would not seek re-election to the redistricted 10th District Senate seat, was joined by his wife and two daughters at the Chattanooga Theatre Center. Approximately 150 supporters listened as he gave a nine-minute speech, focused on his general goals for office and referencing his five years of experience in the General Assembly as qualifying him for the city's top executive post.
"A mayor must do more than run city government," Berke said. "A mayor must show leadership. Leadership is about building bridges. Leadership is about ensuring that everyone is at the table. Black and white, Democratic and Republican, rich and poor, it's about fighting for what you believe when you are right and admitting when you are wrong. Ultimately, leadership is about rising to the occasion, doing what is necessary and serving something higher than yourself."
Berke, a Chattanooga native, attorney and Democrat, is the first candidate to officially declare a bid in next year's nonpartisan mayor's race. Mayor Ron Littlefield, who took office in 2005, is term-limited.
Other names floated as potential candidates for the race include City Council Chair Pam Ladd; Commissioner Warren Mackey; Jim Folkner, leader of Citizens to Recall Mayor Ron Littlefield; Roger Tuder, executive director of Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee; and Guy Satterfield, a former city transportation inspector.
Berke said that since being elected to the state Senate in 2007, he had learned to work in a bipartisan fashion with members of the General Assembly, referencing his work crafting Tennessee's First to the Top education reforms and the passage of bills such as his Tennessee Works Act for unemployed workers. Berke said he would attempt to make his appeal to voters of all parties by promising to cut wasteful and fraudulent government spending.
"In my previous races, I appealed to all voters by putting taxpayer dollars first, by ensuring that we had success at what we do and by trying to show leadership," he said. "Each of the bills that I've passed has been done in a Republican Senate because I know how to work with people from all walks of life. We spend too much time worrying about party labels and not enough time getting things done."
When asked to state specific positions on issues such as annexation proposals or metro government, Berke declined to particularize, saying he would look to have a discussion with stakeholders "over the next several months" about solutions to problems facing Chattanooga. Berke said he would work to keep the city on a track of economic success—including the fight against crime as a vital component of ensuring the local quality of life.
Since announcing his intention to vacate his seat, a handful of contenders have announced bids to represent the new 10th District. They include Republicans Greg Vital and Todd Gardenhire, as well as school board member David Testerman and City Councilman Andraé McGary, who are running as Democrats.
The 10th District primary is Aug. 2.
The mayor's election will be in March of next year.