published Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Ban on politicking at Northgate Mall pushes Weston Wamp off stump


by Chris Carroll
Northgate Mall early voting poll deputy Shannon DeFriese, center, explains
campaigning distance rules Friday to two candidates on the first day of early voting in Hamilton County. Weston Wamp, top center, and Joe DeGaetano, second from right, were present for the clarification.
Northgate Mall early voting poll deputy Shannon DeFriese, center, explains campaigning distance rules Friday to two candidates on the first day of early voting in Hamilton County. Weston Wamp, top center, and Joe DeGaetano, second from right, were present for the clarification.
Photo by Tim Barber.

From eminent domain to religious expression, Republicans usually jump to defend the rights of private property owners.

But 3rd Congressional District hopeful Weston Wamp sees an exception when it comes to Northgate Mall and early voting.

For four days this month, the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp stood outside Northgate's early voting location, asking passers-by to choose him over his father's successor -- U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann -- in the Republican primary.

That didn't fly with mall management after 10 complaints from voters, officials said. Interested in pleasing the owners of a popular early voting destination, Hamilton County Election Commission deputies sided with Northgate and asked Wamp to leave.

"It's private property, and it's been that way forever," said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator of elections for Hamilton County.

Wamp left but later said Northgate should expect "to forego some type of property rights so the public can come and vote."

"Consistent with that would mean candidates should be able to greet voters at the polls, which I think is mutually beneficial to the process," Wamp said in an interview.

Most early voting locations, such as the one at the Hamilton County Election Commission, allow candidates to campaign as long as they're 100 feet away from a polling site's entrance, as required by state law.

But a spokeswoman for CBL & Associates Properties, the company that owns Northgate, said the 100-foot rule does not apply to the mall, citing a corporate policy that prohibits "all politicking" at CBL's 85 regional malls.

"Our priority is to have a shopping center where people can come and shop undisturbed," CBL spokeswoman Katie Reinsmidt said. "This doesn't just apply to Mr. Wamp, but to all campaigns."

With four days before early voting ends Saturday, the issue is at a standstill. Mullis-Morgan said mall and election officials are unlikely to change their minds, while Wamp wants to return to Northgate to campaign during the last few days of early voting -- which normally are heavily trafficked days.

Wamp said he's hoping state officials will intervene on his behalf, but that seems unlikely. Local election commissions have final authority over choosing early voting locations, officials said.

Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for the Tennessee Division of Elections, said the state "doesn't have the authority to tell the mall owner to allow campaigning there."

"If Mr. Wamp believes his rights are being violated, he certainly has the remedy of going through the courts," Fontenay said.

Other 3rd District candidates are Republicans Ron Bhalla and Scottie Mayfield, Democrats Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor and independent Matthew Deniston.

Primaries are Aug. 2.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

advertisement
advertisement
400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.