Hamilton County mayoral candidate Wamp denies involvement in attack ads aimed at Republican opponents

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Republican candidate Weston Wamp speaks during the 2022 Hamilton County mayoral debate in the Local 3 News studio on April 11, 2022. Local 3 News and Chattanooga Times Free Press asked viewers to send in questions to be asked during the debate.

Hamilton County mayoral candidate Weston Wamp on Friday continued to defend himself against allegations that his supporters have stooped to negative attacks - saying that County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley has been saying negative things about her opponents all along.

"Today, Sabrena, she launched the third ad attacking me, an ad made by a production company based in Hollywood, California," Wamp said in a statement. "Sabrena started her campaign by attacking me for who my father is. That continued today."

Wamp is the son of former Congressman Zach Wamp. A third candidate in the Republican primary on May 3, businessman Matt Hullander, is the son of county Trustee Bill Hullander.

It's not clear which advertisement by Smedley Wamp was criticizing on Friday, but she posted one on her Facebook page sounding many of the themes she has emphasized throughout the campaign.

"I'm Sabrena Smedley, the only one running for county mayor with a lick of experience in doing the job," she said in the ad. "That's what Hamilton County needs, not political sons trying to expand the family business."

From the time of her first ad, Smedley has suggested Wamp and Hullander are good old boys riding on their fathers' coattails.

Wamp's campaign was in the news this week when an unaffiliated political group run by his supporters attacked Smedley for her support by the teacher's union and Hullander over workplace practices at a company he owned. Smedley and Hullander both criticized Wamp even though his campaign was not directly responsible for the attacks.

"I'm so disappointed in the underhanded tactics, but I guess that's what other candidates do when they're desperate," Smedley said Friday in an email. "They're freaking out because they know we have the momentum.

"My last name has never opened any doors. I've had to rely on the power of faith and hard work. My conservative record speaks for itself, especially when it comes to keeping politics out of schools and giving parents a voice," Smedley said. "I love Hamilton County. I'm glad to call it home and proud of what we've accomplished together. I'm running for all the right reasons, and I'm committed to running a positive, aboveboard campaign."

In the ads attacking Smedley and Hullander, on WGOW Talk Radio 102.3 FM, a group called Chattanoogans for Responsible Government asked why Smedley "is cozying up with the liberal teachers' union," which the ad said has supported masking children and "continues to push their radical woke agenda like critical race theory."

Teacher's union President Jeanette Omarkhail told the Times Free Press earlier in the week that the group "worked with the school district and the CDC [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]" but did not specifically address the mask mandate. She said the union supports diversity and equity but has not endorsed the teaching of critical race theory as the radio ad claims.

In a mailing sent out to prospective Republican voters, Chattanoogans for Responsible Government also criticized Hullander for being sued multiple times "for paying illegal wages" at Hullco and for violating overtime pay requirements for some of its workers.

(READ MORE: WATCH: The 2022 Hamilton County mayoral debate)

Although Hullander paid a litigant $17,500 to settle a lawsuit over wages, he did not admit to any wrongdoing and insisted that most of the employees and contractors he worked with for more than two decades "were treated like family."

Chattanoogans for Responsible Government was started by Legacybox co-founder Adam Boeselager, who also helped start the Millennial Debt Foundation headed by Wamp. The political group paid more than $7,000 for the advertisements on WGOW, according to records obtained by the Times Free Press.

Wamp said Friday in a telephone interview he hadn't heard the radio ad and that he wanted to make it clear those ads didn't originate from him.

"It's simply not true. I didn't have anything to do with them, and it's pretty obvious if you look at them that I didn't have anything to do with them," he said.

"I have been involved in every word our campaign has released, and it has been positive, issue-focused and well-designed. That is the opposite of these mailers," he said in the statement. "The outside group responsible for the mailers is run by people who support me, but I've never been a fan of these types of mailers."

Still, Wamp's statement said no one should "play the victim card" in the county mayor race.

Wamp said during the phone interview he saw the ad while he was crafting Friday's statement. Smedley makes her target clear, he said.

"It goes back to this line of attack how she refers to Matt and I, talks about us being sons in the family business," Wamp said. "She started the whole campaign making it personal about our family. I've not talked about her history or who her parents are."

Wamp also took Hullander to task in the statement.

"Matt hired the nastiest campaign operator in Tennessee, who proceeded to pay for mass phone calls falsely accusing me of supporting 'leftist' policy and 'illegal immigration,'" Wamp's statement said.

In an earlier response to the attacks ads targeting Smedley and himself, Hullander said in a statement, "Politicians do what politicians do. Clearly, Weston Wamp has decided to attack us because he is way behind and running out of time. Folks in Hamilton County are looking for bold conservative leadership to make it better. I had hoped to continue to talk about the issues that matter to voters and will continue to do so."

Friday in a telephone interview, Robin Derryberry, speaking for Hullander's campaign, denied dirty tactics were being used in the businessman's campaign for the mayor's seat.

"Matt Hullander promised that we would take the high road, and this campaign has taken the high road, we've told the truth, and we've not taken potshots at any of our competitors, and we promised that we wouldn't," Derryberry said.

"When we found out about the radio ad and the hit piece coming out, Matt immediately - immediately - called Sabrena to say, 'We didn't do this,' and her response was, 'We didn't either,'" Derryberry said. "And we offered even to do a joint statement with her condemning negative attack ads."

Derryberry said the two campaigns ultimately took up those efforts independently.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.