As one candidate, Republican Weston Wamp, stressed alongside friends and family the importance of boosting voter turnout for county races, his opponent in the election for Hamilton County mayor, Democrat Matt Adams, lashed out Tuesday over Wamp's relationship with the Chattanooga Lookouts - and sought to recruit an unlikely ally.
"As you all know, my opponent has been hellbent on derailing a yearslong bipartisan effort to revitalize Chattanooga's long-suffering South Broad corridor even though not one dollar of current taxpayer money will go toward the project, which is expected to yield more than a billion dollars in investment," Adams said during a news conference Tuesday outside the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Plans to construct an almost $80 million stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts on the old U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site in the South Broad District have become a last-minute point of contention in the mayoral election, which will be Thursday.
Wamp has been a consistent skeptic of the project, citing the timing so close to an election and questioning the financial feasibility of the plans, but Adams has been more receptive.
Emails released Friday include a message that Lookouts managing owner and Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier sent in 2018 accusing Wamp of making a racist and sexist comment during a meeting with company executives in January 2015, which Wamp has forcefully denied. The email does not describe the alleged comments in question, and Wamp's former employers at the Lamp Post Group have also come to his defense.
Hamilton County candidates make closing arguments
The messages also detail conversations Wamp had with Freier and former Lookouts investor John Woods, who has since been accused by federal regulators of allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme, about Wamp taking a job with the team, which ultimately never materialized. Critics have claimed Wamp's opposition to the project is personal, but the Republican has maintained his criticism has to do with the merits of the proposal.
"Many of us found this strong stance against common sense economic development both curious and concerning," Adams said, "and when emails came to light last week showing him placing personal grudges against the betterment of our community, many of us on both sides of the aisle grew even more concerned. The short version is he was for it before he was against it. Dozens of email exchanges show that in contrast to his public statements, Weston Wamp was a full-throated supporter of a public-private partnership to build a new stadium."
Wamp has previously said the emails reveal that his position on a Lookouts stadium remains largely unchanged: A new, privately funded stadium would be great for the city and the former U.S. Pipe site would be a logical place for it.
"My discussions with the Lookouts owners in December of 2014 and January of 2015 were about a privately funded stadium in cooperation with local elected leaders, a far cry from the $80 million publicly funded stadium that has been proposed," he said in a statement last Friday.
Wamp appeared at an event in Lookout Mountain on Tuesday with his sister, Republican district attorney candidate Coty Wamp. Coty Wamp is running against Democrat John Allen Brooks.
Joined by his children, Weston Wamp said the campaign has been exhausting but rewarding.
"You know, people will get all dramatic about politics," he said. "They'll get mad at each other, and they'll form this axis and this alignment. And at the end of the day in county government, we do have a lot of problems."
Wamp pointed to the need for road repairs, properly funding sewer infrastructure and ensuring teachers and emergency medical workers are properly paid and appreciated.
"But the most important thing that county government does is it prepares these little guys for the rest of their lives, and we should ever forget that," Wamp said of his children. "We shouldn't let anybody, no matter what they want or what their motive is, nobody should ever distract from remembering that here in the state of Tennessee, that is what county government really is: State government at a local level. The most important role of government is to keep us safe and prepare our young people."
As part of what he described as a bipartisan effort to hire several top-level Republicans, Adams also publicly extended an offer Tuesday to County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley to serve as a full-time senior adviser in his administration should he win the campaign for Hamilton County mayor on Thursday. Smedley lost to Wamp in the May 3 primary election.
"Commissioner Sabrena Smedley ran a clean, honest and visionary campaign for county mayor this year," Adams said. "Had supporters of my opponent Weston Wamp not unleashed waves of negative advertising brimming with misinformation, Sabrena would likely be the Republican nominee, and this race would currently be between two honest, mature candidates who both have the interests of Hamilton County at heart."
Supporters of Wamp criticized Smedley for certain endorsements in radio ads, but Wamp denied involvement in the negative campaigning.
Smedley finished a narrow second place in the Republican primary versus Wamp and unsuccessfully challenged his candidacy, having claimed crossover voting from Democrats impacted the outcome. She told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Tuesday that she had an informal phone conversation with Adams on Monday.
Adams told her there may be a role she could play in his administration if he won the election, Smedley said, but there hasn't been a conversation about what form that role would take. Smedley stressed she did not pursue a job from Adams, has not received an offer and has not accepted a position.
"I've spent my last eight years investing in moving Hamilton County forward," she said in a phone call. "I have an understanding of where we are as a county, of all the great things going on as well as some of the areas where we need to focus on improvement. So if there is an opportunity for me to continue to help move Hamilton County forward, I would be open to hearing what that might be."
Wamp told the Times Free Press on Tuesday that Adams is "as far left a liberal as you can find."
"You talk about playing politics, acting like here at the last minute he wants to hire a Republican, and it's my former opponent who had a hard time losing the first time?" Wamp said. "That's politics. I mean, it's hard to say more than that."
The Hamilton County Republican Party released a statement Tuesday in response to the Adams news conference.
"If the statements from Democratic nominee Matt Adams are true about current commissioner, and former Republican mayoral candidate, Sabrena Smedley entertaining his invitation to be a 'senior adviser' in his potential administration, they are beyond troubling," said the organization's board of officers. "We call for Commissioner Smedley to confirm or deny these allegations, publicly and release all communications of the job offer from Matt Adams. We trust that she would not legitimize his campaign by agreeing to work in a potential Adams administration. We call for her to put this issue to rest."