Retired Maryville Fire Chief Ed Mitchell is running for Blount County mayor and will face incumbent Jerry Cunningham in the May Republican primary.
Mitchell, who retired in 2008 after more than 14 years as chief and 30 years with the department, said he has been thinking about running the last couple of years and seriously began considering a bid in the last three to six months.
“I wanted to make sure my wife and family were supportive of this,” Mitchell said. “We’ve talked and prayed about it, and I made a decision I am going to do it. I’m going to give it a run.”
The chief said he picked up his petition at the Blount County Election Commission. Candidates must turn in their petitions by Feb. 18, and the Republican primary is set for May 4.
Mitchell said if elected he would work to represent residents in such a way that everyone feels they have a voice in the county mayor’s office. “I don’t want to make decisions based on my own ideas,” he said. “I want to make decisions based on what the citizens want.”
The chief said that since retiring, he has had the opportunity to look at how politicians on a local, state and national level make decisions that often aren’t in the best interest of constituents. “I keep seeing elected officials making decisions with constituents standing there saying, ‘That’s not what we want,’ yet the elected officials keep making those decisions without regard to what the majority of citizens want.”
Mitchell shared his thoughts on a variety of issues he feels will face the county in the coming years. “I think we’re facing tough economic times in Blount County, and recruiting industry and jobs needs to be a No. 1 priority,” he said. “People have to work, and people need jobs.”
The chief said education should also be a main priority. “Education, or a lack of education, contributes to all the things in society that aren’t good - from drug abuse to loss of morality to the crime rate. They can all be traced back to lack of education,” he said. “If we do not keep education standards high, we’ll face the same dilemmas a lot of other communities face.”
Mitchell said supporting law enforcement is another priority he will stress if elected. “We have a good sheriff’s office and police departments in Blount County. Police officers can not do their job if you do not give them what they need to do the job,” he said. “These are things that ensure we have a safe community.”
Mitchell said he did not consider this decision lightly. “I’m going to work hard, and if I get this job, I’ll work hard. My dad told me the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary,” he said.
When asked about running against Cunningham, Mitchell said he considers the mayor a friend. “I’ve known Jerry a long time, and I like Jerry,” he said. “I feel I can bring change to that position that the people of Blount County want to see. I think I’m going to be open to a lot of ideas and be responsive. I want to be a mayor for everyone. If I didn’t feel I could do the job, I wouldn’t have attempted it.”
The chief said he is running as a Republican, and he said he has always voted in the Republican primary. “I consider myself to be a conservative. I’ve worked within a budget for 14 and a half years, and I’ve never over extended myself and never spent what I didn’t have,” he said. “That is my philosophy: Be very conservative with the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Mitchell said he will run an above-board campaign. “I want this to be a good, clean campaign so citizens won’t shake their heads about what any candidate said.”
Cunningham said he supports Mitchell or anyone else’s right to run but the chief’s announcement did catch the mayor off guard.
“I was surprised by it, but I understand politics,” he said. “The thing that surprised me was that he is running as a Republican. In my 40 years since returning from Vietnam, I’ve never seen him at a Republican function.”
Cunningham said he hopes the race is positive. “I’m not going to get down in the gutter, but I can only control one side of the fence,” he said. “I can’t control what an opponent does.”
The mayor said he has worked to make the mayor’s office open and responsive to citizens. “That’s one of the things we’ve gotten so much positive feedback from. I see everyone who comes in the door, and I return every phone call,” he said.
Blount County Republican Party chair Susan Mills said the local party is inclusive. “All Republicans have a right to run on our ticket,” she said.
With regard to how active Mitchell has been in the party, Mills said, “I guess the voters would have to decide if that’s an issue.”
Mills said 2010 is going to be a heated campaign year. “We have lots of qualified candidates running. We’re obviously going to have a few contested primaries,” she said. “We’ll get through it, and come back together as a party and support our nominees.”