A trio of candidates vying for the District 7 seat on Chattanooga City Council met publicly for the first time Thursday, and they wasted little time before taking shots at each other in an effort to appear more suited for the job.
Both Chris Anderson and Karl Epperson appeared at the breakfast at the Doubletree Hotel, hosted by the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, along with City Councilman Manny Rico.
Tramble Stephens, who will also be on the ballot for District 7 in March, did not attend the gathering.
Anderson, a director of food and beverage services at Bluff View Art District, and Epperson, a member of the board of the Westside Community Association, presented contrasting profiles of themselves against Rico, who repeatedly referred to his eight years of experience serving on the council as qualifying him for re-election.
Epperson, a former mayoral candidate and regular attendee for council meetings, said he desired to be a voice on the body for those in the city who were "less fortunate." Epperson, who lives off Social Security, said he was the only candidate in the race who understood what it was like to budget on little money, deciding sometimes between buying food or medicine.
"I'm not saying these two gentlemen have never been in that position, but if they ever were in that position, I believe at this point they've forgotten what it was like to be in that position," Epperson said.
Rico, who also owns and operates Rico Monuments in St. Elmo, said it would be important for current council members such as himself to continue serving as the city makes a transition to a new mayoral administration following municipal elections next March.
"There's a learning curve to being an elected official, to being a decision-maker," Rico said. "And it takes a while."
Anderson said that if elected, he would like to return city government to policies that reflect those enacted during the administrations of former mayors John Kinsey and Bob Corker. Anderson cited Mayor Ron Littlefield's denying city police and fire employees a pay raise last year as an issue he disagreed with, and he hinted at a desire to work toward dismantling the city's Department of Education, Arts and Culture if voted into office.
"I think there are departments that duplicate services," Anderson said. "Let's be ready to know where we can cut first … I want to know what we can do away with to begin."
Rico took issue with Anderson's mention of last year's pay increase for city employees, except for police and fire. The councilman blamed a poor economy on the outcome of the city budget, rather than the city's leadership.
"As far as pay raises for people, come on," he said. "You know, the economy's bad. And I believe in paying people what they're worth, but I also don't believe in turning around and picking people's pockets because they've been there a long time and they feel they need a raise."
When asked to list their top two issues they'd like to work toward concerning Chattanooga, Epperson said affordable housing and sidewalks. Anderson said jobs and crime, while Rico said his main goal was to make Chattanooga the best place to live for its residents.
Before the meeting closed, Rico took the opportunity to defend himself against the candidates once more—particularly Anderson. Rico said he had not seen Anderson regularly at council meetings since he had declared his candidacy in May and questioned his readiness for service.
"I've seen him twice at council since he said he was going to run, a year ago," Rico said. "And that was in the evening, that wasn't at the 3 o'clock committee meeting where you learn the meat and potatoes and everything. It's just … to hear people criticize you, and they don't have a clue what's going on. I mean, come on. I've done this for eight years. What have you done the last eight years?"
"It's easy to criticize when you're not serving your constituents; that's where I'm coming from," Anderson replied.
District 7 includes areas of downtown, Alton Park, St. Elmo and East Lake.
Chattanooga municipal elections are March 5.