Wamps win Hamilton County mayoral and district attorney races

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Coty Wamp looks on as Weston Wamp talks to his supporters and members of the media at the Edwin Hotel in Chattanooga on Thursday, August 4, 2022.

After a close primary and a general election upended in the 11th hour by emails leaked to county officials, the media and his opponent, Republican Weston Wamp defeated Democrat Matt Adams on Thursday in the race for Hamilton County mayor.

Wamp, 35, will succeed the outgoing mayor, Jim Coppinger, who was appointed to the role in 2011 before being elected to two subsequent terms.

"The most important thing we can do is just bring an attitude that county government exists to serve everybody across the county," Wamp said as results showed him winning the race. "Wide open transparency, working hard every day. And I think from that, you'll see a lot opportunities to serve, from the school system, which we talked about at length, even to rethinking the way that we recruit great companies here."

Wamp said his general election campaign was about setting priorities.

"I think county government frankly has all its priorities out of whack," he said. "County government is state government at the local level. It's the essential services. It's the most important stuff. It's public safety."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayoral candidate Wamp denies racist, sexist remarks, accuses Lookouts owner of extortion)

Underfunding has caused shortages in school resource and corrections officers, he said.

"Across county government you've got a lot of vacant positions because unfortunately, I don't know we've been setting priorities in the right areas over some time," he said.

Wamp's sister, law enforcement attorney Coty Wamp, 33, was also leading over Democrat John Allen Brooks. In May, she bested eight-year incumbent Neal Pinkston in the Republican primary.

"This county is so ready for new fresh leadership that they elected a 35-year-old county mayor and a 33-year-old district attorney," she said. "It says more about the fact that we're just ready for a new generation of leadership than it even does about us. It's out with the old and in with the new."

Beginning on Sept. 1, Wamp said she plans to restructure the entire DA's office from the top down.

"We're going to have new leadership structure, we're going to have new prosecutorial positions, we're going to reprioritize in terms of resources," Coty Wamp said. "I've already decided that there are several positions in the office that we're going to get rid of so we can prioritize our violent crimes, our fentanyl and heroin drug dealers and child sex abuse cases."

Overall, the election marks a major shift in the makeup of county government. Only three seats on the 11-member Hamilton County Commission were contested on Thursday, but at least six new commissioners will end up sitting on the panel, which will expand from nine members to 11 in September.

(READ MORE: Wamp says criticism of stadium is unrelated to previous discussions of work for the Lookouts)

Three incumbents chose not to run for re-election, and one, Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy Daisy, lost his primary in May.

Incumbent Commissioners David Sharpe, D-Red Bank, and Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah, were beating back respective challengers Ruth Jeno, a member of the Red Bank City Commission, and Steve Caudle, the senior pastor of Greater Second Missionary Baptist Church, to retain their positions on the board.

Sharpe represents District 6 and Highlander District 9. District 6 includes North Chattanooga, North Shore, Riverview and Stuart Heights, and District 9 includes Birchwood, Hunter, Meadowview and Harrison Bay.

Highlander said he's thankful that he and his opponent, Caudle, ran a clean campaign. He previously served two terms on the Hamilton County school board and was appointed to the commission in 2021.

"I think for one we need to do a lot of political healing," he said about the commission's chief priority going forward. "We need to mend some fences, and I think we all need to work together for the good of the county."

Sharpe issued a statement on Friday,

"This is a victory for everyone who believes campaigns should bring us together - not tear us apart," the statement said. "When we work together to solve problems, achieve common goals, and reach for uncommon dreams, there is no limit to what we can accomplish."

(READ MORE: Democrats gain 2 seats, Republicans 1 on Hamilton County school board)

In the newly created District 11, former County Commissioner Joe Graham, a Republican, defeated small business owner Montrell Besley, a Democrat, by 30 votes. District 11 encompasses Alton Park, East Lake, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Valley and St. Elmo.

In city news, activist Marie Mott got more votes than incumbent City Council member Marvene Noel in the race for the District 8 seat on the Chattanooga City Council, and the two will proceed to a runoff election.

Incumbent Bill Knowles, a Republican, handily defeated independents Chester Heathington Jr. and Nivek Rucker to retain his position as Hamilton County Clerk.

On June 30, city and county officials announced plans to build a new $79.5 million stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts at the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site in the South Broad District. Weston Wamp made that a core issue over the last several weeks, arguing that the decision was being made too close to an election and would pose too much of a risk for taxpayers.

Emails released last week showed that Wamp, who was then working for the Lamp Post Group, discussed a position with the Lookouts in late 2014 as Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier and former investor John Woods were looking at buying the team.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Lookouts owner calls Wamp claims of extortion 'absurd')

Wamp never ended up taking a job, with Freier claiming in a 2018 email that he didn't want Wamp associated with the Lookouts after Wamp made a racist remark during a meeting in January 2015 with company leadership. Wamp has denied making any offensive comments and has said he was the one who turned down a position.

The messages also suggest Wamp supported the idea of a new stadium for the team at the time, but Wamp has claimed aspects of the project were different back then and have since changed.

Wamp is a local entrepreneur and the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga. He reflected on the election of himself and his sister.

"It's a wild experience," Weston Wamp said. "You know, I'm not sure I've fully processed all that. But, you know, at the end of the day, Coty and I are not, you know, we're not really impressed by ourselves or each other. I mean, she's very talented. Our community is going to realize what we've been lacking in an effective district attorney for a long time. Coty and I are not concerned about accolades. I mean, we grew up in a house where public service came first. Both of us have a heart for public service."

In 2019, Weston Wamp he created a nonprofit organization called the Millennial Debt Foundation that focuses on bringing attention to America's ballooning national debt.

Wamp defeated two opponents, Hamilton County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley and businessman Matt Hullander, in the Republican primary in May. He would be the youngest mayor in Hamilton County since the job was created almost half a century ago.

(READ MORE: Former Bradley County Commissioner Lowe beats Hall in Tennessee's Senate District 1 Republican primary race)

Wamp has made education a key component of his campaign message and has committed to create a parent council with representatives from all 79 Hamilton County schools, which would advise the mayor's office about issues like the annual budget and capital expenditures.

Adams, 26, is a paralegal and enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 17, working in national security law as well as criminal prosecution and defense. He is now in the U.S. Army Reserves and serves as a senior administrative paralegal.

Results showed him capturing 20,494 votes versus Wamp's 28,188 with all 90 precincts reporting Thursday night. Adams said he left a voicemail for Wamp on Thursday evening congratulating him.

"I think it goes without saying that they're not exactly how we were hoping for them to go," Adams said by phone, "but ultimately we moved the needle, and we showed that the tides are shifting in Hamilton County. Folks are tired of the status quo."

Boosting investments in public transportation was a priority for Adams during the campaign, and he's hopeful that he brought more focus to that issue.

"I just hope that mayor-elect Wamp will pay attention to it the same way that tens of thousands residents of this county are paying attention to the dire need for expanded public transportation," he said.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.