Though he won't be a delegate, Chris Anderson, District 7 candidate for next year's Chattanooga City Council election, is in Charlotte, N.C., to participate in this week's Democratic National Convention.
Anderson, 32, is serving as a member of the party's 2012 platform committee. Along with approximately 400 others, he will help approve the party's platform, which for the first time will include an endorsement of same-sex marriage.
The issue carries special significance for Anderson.
Anderson is the first openly gay candidate to run for local office in Chattanooga's history.
"I'm the first openly gay candidate for Chattanooga in any office," Anderson told Nooga.com in an interview last week. "I'm also the only openly gay candidate running for office anywhere in Tennessee today."
Anderson, a lifelong Chattanooga resident and director of food and beverage services for Bluff View Art District, lives in Jefferson Heights with his partner of 10 years. The candidate said he wanted to distinguish himself from past candidates who had kept their orientation private as a way to demonstrate his value of transparency.
"I'd just as soon it not be the focus of the conversation, but I think people have a right to know," he said. "I don't ever want to be in a place where I'm not honest with the people who I am asking to vote for me … Tennessee is not very socially progressive, but Chattanooga is socially progressive. I'd say [District 7] is the most socially progressive district in the city, and I don't think it's anything that is going to prevent me from winning."
The district includes Alton Park, East Lake, St. Elmo, the Southside, the Westside and portions of downtown.
Anderson's decision to comment on his sexual orientation was not prompted by current Councilman Manny Rico or any locals who are opposed to his council bid. The candidate said that although he expected to be criticized on the issue in the coming months, he would be prepared to respond and address any objections to his personal life.
Rico, who has represented District 7 since 2005, said he had no plans of making Anderson's orientation an issue.
"I've heard comments about it, but I'm not going there," Rico said. "It's not the reason he would not make a good councilman—it's just cause he's not qualified. City Council is a full-time job, and Chris being openly gay has nothing to do with his ability to be a leader or an elected official."
Anderson, one of only two candidates to declare bids for next year's election, has taken opportunities to find fault with Rico's role on the City Council. Anderson said that if he had been representing Rico's district last June, a $209 million budget with a controversial provision for employee raises would not have been passed.
"It would have been 4-5 instead of 5-4," Anderson said.
Rico said he hoped residents of the district would look to his experience on the council and in the community when considering who to vote for in six months.
"The biggest problem with young people is they don't know what they don't know," Rico, who turns 67 next month, said. "I've put in 10, 15 years of service on public boards, and I've invested a lot of time trying to learn how the city runs and what people think. Campaigns do not get you prepared for leadership and making the hard decisions we're asked to make. It's easy to just sit on the sidelines and criticize, but my record speaks for itself."