A 2018 email written by Chattanooga Lookouts managing owner Jason Freier alleged that Weston Wamp, now a Hamilton County mayoral candidate, made racist and sexist remarks to a team executive who is Black and a visiting female staffer in mid-January 2015, a claim Wamp unequivocally denied in a statement Friday.
The email was released to media members and public officials after several weeks during which Freier mentioned the email but declined to make it public. The release came with less than a week before the election.
"Jason Freier and his operatives have apparently leaked emails attacking my character with vicious lies in a desperate attempt to get his hands on taxpayer dollars for a new stadium," Wamp wrote. "It is part of an attempt to intimidate me and coerce me to support a new stadium. I unequivocally deny ever making racist or sexist remarks."
Freier "has threatened for weeks to release emails regarding a private business investment made by Lamp Post Group eight years ago," Wamp said. "Under Tennessee law, those efforts amount to extortion of a candidate for public office by Freier and others working in support of a new stadium."
Wamp has been a skeptic of a $79 million proposal for the Lookouts to get a new stadium in Chattanooga's South Broad District, funded largely with tax revenue generated by the development.
The email was part of a batch of documents delivered to local media and Hamilton County leaders this week, which came after several commissioners said during a public meeting Wednesday that they would like to receive the documents. The Times Free Press copies of the emails came in an envelope at the newspaper's front desk with no return address. The documents consisted of printouts of the original emails, which had been forwarded on Thursday from former team investor John Woods to an unknown recipient.
Wamp will face Democrat Matt Adams in Thursday's election. Adams has also called for release of the emails Freier mentioned.
The release comes at a time when leaders are considering a proposal to build the new stadium for the Lookouts on the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site in the South Broad District, which will face two crucial votes in the coming weeks.
Wamp has criticized the plans, and critics have suggested Wamp's concerns stem from previous discussions of employment with the team that never materialized - something Wamp denies.
In a statement Friday, Freier said he and his company played no role in releasing the emails.
"The Lookouts have received many inquiries regarding a series of private emails that were recently disclosed pertaining the history between Weston Wamp and the Chattanooga Lookouts. Neither the Lookouts, nor I personally, played any role whatsoever in the disclosure of these emails and, upon learning that another party was considering such disclosure, actively sought to dissuade them from making any of these emails public.
"We (the Lookouts and I) have resisted all calls to disclose these emails publicly (to public officials or the media), choosing at every turn to stick to discussing the merits of the project that is now under consideration and about which we remain extremely excited.
"People not currently associated with the team were a party to some emails and thus had the emails in their possession. We were and are unable to control what any such individual does or has done. But we would like it to be clear that the Lookouts and I personally have not participated in any disclosure of email correspondence with anyone, nor are we participating in the discussion thereof."
Wamp has said his criticisms of the stadium project are not personal and are related to the merits and timing of the proposal. While working for the Lamp Post Group in 2014, he said, Woods, the former investor in the Lookouts, approached him about accessing funding for the team. Along with Lamp Post's investment, Wamp said, Wood proposed that he work part-time with the Lookouts, an offer Wamp said he decided against.
Freier described the 2015 dealings in an April 9, 2018, email to three members of the Lamp Post Group, in which he expressed frustration about an opinion piece Wamp had written in the Chattanooga Times Free Press questioning the use of taxpayer funds for construction of a new Lookouts stadium.
"We have kept quiet and taken the high road as he had bad-mouthed us around town and tried to undermine a project he knows nothing about (likely for no reason other than vindictiveness - he thought a new ballpark was a great idea when he was begging us for a job with the team)," Freier wrote. "I know Weston no longer works for you all, but, given your history with him, I wanted to check with you before we 'go nuclear' and release the truth about Weston and his history with us."
Freier claimed that Wamp was "very aggressive" in seeking a role with the Lookouts and tried to convince Woods to fire Rich Mozingo and make Wamp president of the team.
"John had a longstanding relationship with (Weston's father and former U.S. House Rep. Zach Wamp) and, out of respect for that and based on our understanding that through his family Weston would have lots of contacts in town, we agreed to discuss his having a role with the team where he introduced us to potential partners and make further inroads in the community," Freier wrote.
Freier said leadership from Hardball Capital's other two teams were in Chattanooga in January 2015 during a meeting that also involved Wamp.
"In his first hours with us, he made a racist comment directed at our African-American Assistant General Manager and also made a comment directed at our female VP of Marketing from Columbia that made her (and everyone else in the room) uncomfortable," Freier wrote, without detailing the comments in question.
Freier said he sat down with Barry Large and Allan Davis, managing partners at the Lamp Post Group, the following week to discuss the situation, writing that "Barry and Allan were completely understanding (and, quite frankly, didn't seem shocked at Weston's behavior)."
Large and Davis issued a statement Friday denying Freier's account, stating that they "have known Weston for many years and have never heard him make racist or sexist remarks."
"Mr. Freier's account of a meeting eight years ago is inconsistent with our memory of that conversation," they said. "The stadium issue aside, we are supporters of Weston and look forward to his leadership as our next county mayor."
Wamp said emails from December 2014 and January 2015 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.
"What has changed since my discussions eight years ago is that taxpayers are currently being asked to assume all risk and pay for the new stadium up front with Lookouts owners putting up no money initially," he said. "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."
Wamp said he was offered a position with the team but declined a request Jan. 28, 2015, to meet with Freier and Woods, stating in an email that he provided to the Times Free Press, "I have spent some time reconsidering whether this is a good fit for me. I'm not sure that it is, but I'm glad to talk again once the deal has closed and my son is born in the next couple weeks."
Although he remained a minority owner of the Lookouts until 2018, he said that was the last communication he had with Freier.
"Freier is not an honest man and has conducted an elaborate smear campaign on me in the final stages of an important local election," Wamp said. "Freier is known for holding minor league baseball teams hostage and demanding taxpayer-funded stadiums or else he would move the team. Despite my love of baseball, I wanted nothing to do with that unethical business practice.
"Freier's attempts to intimidate me are a part of his playbook and his sense of entitlement to the taxpayer dollars of Hamilton County citizens is disgusting. As I have said for weeks, the proposed baseball stadium needs to be fully vetted and the rushed timeline to get it approved needs to slow down. It is unfortunate that this has become such a distraction from the election at hand, although that is likely Freier's intention."