Some of Shelby County’s leading Democratic lights turned out at Rizzo’s Restaurant downtown Wednesday night to pay homage to Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson at a fundraiser for the councilman, who is fighting a recall effort that is motivated, he says, by the simple fact that he is openly gay.
Among others in the sizeable crowd present to lend their support were state Democratic Senate leader Jim Kyle, now a candidate for a Probate Court judgeship; Steve Mulroy, one of three Democratic candidates for Shelby County Mayor; and Bryan Carson, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party.
All hailed Anderson as a pathfinder, and Kyle embraced the beleaguered councilman as a friend and political ally of long standing, as a past supporter of both himself and his wife Sara Kyle, who was also present, and as a public official intent upon doing “the progressive thing, the right thing.”
As Anderson explained his circumstances in an interview prior to speaking, he has been challenged by a “Tea Party” group, largely from outside Chattanooga itself, who had until Tuesday, the 75th official day of their petition drive, to meet Hamilton County’s “low threshold” to call a recall election — 15 percent of the registered voters of his district.
That would be District 7, encompassing Chattanooga’s downtown and, as the councilman described it, a “trendy” adjacent area much like Midtown Memphis, bi-racial in character. “I don’t think they’re going to get there,” Anderson said. “There are just not that many bigots in my district.”
Although the Hamilton County Election Commission had not yet certified the results, Anderson said it appeared that the petitioners had stalled out at two-thirds of the required number of signatures. with only one signature out of every three adjudged by the Election Commission to be invalid, even forged.
Anderson said his current statewide tour had two purposes, a conscious-raising one and the practical one of paying legal fees and preparing for three campaigns, the current one to avoid recall, a recall campaign if need be, and a campaign to regain his seat in the event he was ousted.
The councilman said that, while the petitioners cited two of his legislative acts in their call for a recall — sponsorship of a domestic partnership ordinance and a generalized non-discrimination ordinance — it was clear from their use of terms like “sodomite” and “opposed to our values:” that his real offense in their eyes was the mere fact of his being gay.
He noted that the two aforementioned pieces of legislation had been supported by four other Council members, all heterosexual, and that recall efforts had not been launched against them.
In a brief address to the attendees Wednesday night, Anderson recapped much of the above (getting an enthusiastic sound of applause when he mentioned the likelihood of the petition drive’s having failed).
Reviewing some of the events of his career, which he began at an early age as an aide in numerous campaigns by others, he said that, when he decided to run for the Chattanooga Council, “They told me a gay candidate couldn’t get elected n Chattanooga, Tennessee, but a gay candidate did.” That got another hearty round of applause.
The voters didn’t care “how I choose to spend my private time,” which, said Anderson said, his current Tea Party detractors, “a dying breed,” had described “in very graphic terms, sometimes not and sometimes accurate.” (That got the appropriate laugh.)
He finished by saying that his predicament was a wake-up call for all of Tennessee. “If I can be recalled for being gay, it can happen anywhere, in Memphis or Nashville or Knoxville or even some of the smellers cities like Cleveland and Tullahoma."
Wednesday night’s event was arranged through the auspices of the Rincon Strategy Group. Also present were Jonathan Cole, Skip Ledbetter, and other representatives of the Tennessee Equality Project, as well as several current political candidates.
The latter included Michael McCusker, running for Criminal Court Clerk; Heidi Kuhn, running for Probate Court Clerk; Memphis Council member Lee Harris, candidate for state Senate District 29; Gerald Skahan, candidate for a General Sessions Criminal Division 9 judgeship; and his sister, Criminal Court Division 1 Judge Paula Skahan, who seeks reelection and who, as her brother noted, had probably been the first openly gay public official ever elected in Tennessee.