Ahead of a Hamilton County Election Commission hearing scheduled for Wednesday to resolve outstanding residency issues before the March 2 election, Michele Peterson has decided to withdraw from the Chattanooga mayoral race to back competitor Wade Hinton.
Her residency in the city — and therefore her eligibility to run — was questioned last month. The local businesswoman said Tuesday that she will end her candidacy Wednesday morning, a decision she says is unrelated.
"I think that it's important right now that our city sends a message. And I believe that Wade brings a lot more of government experience to the table with an ever-changing tide for government involvement in the city as we come out of COVID," Peterson said of the former city attorney's experience. "And I believe that I'm not quite prepared to have those discussions.
"And I believe someone who has government experience like Wade Hinton makes the most amount of sense."
Peterson said that she and members of her campaign met with Hinton multiple times before making the decision and have asked him to consider some of her more progressive hopes for the next mayor, specifically issues of criminal justice, economic equality and representation of younger residents and people of color.
A spokesperson for Hinton said the campaign is accepting her endorsement.
"We appreciate having a leader who fights hard for equity and inclusion like Michele support our campaign for mayor," the spokesperson, Spencer Bowers, said Tuesday. "We look forward to making positive change that all Chattanoogans can be proud of."
Peterson said she plans to wait to withdraw until after she pleads her case for residency at a Wednesday morning Election Commission meeting, where final changes to the March 2 local ballot will be made.
"I'm gonna show up for the meeting in the morning to establish my residency, and then I plan to withdraw and throw my support behind Wade," Peterson said Tuesday. "It's too late in the game to have a conversation about withdrawing prior, and it's important to me that I not withdraw based on residency."
Asked how she planned to prove her residency, Peterson said she was unsure what documentation she had, but had been provided a list of acceptable documents by the Election Commission.
Mayoral candidates must live in the city for a year before they are elected to the position. Peterson was, until recently, registered to vote in Signal Mountain. She told the Times Free Press, when asked about the situation, that she has no primary residence.
Aside from the Peterson issue, a residency challenge by mayoral candidate Monty Bruell against mayoral candidate candidate Monty Bell will be resolved at the Wednesday hearing as well.
In December, entrepreneur Bruell filed a complaint against Bell, who is homeless, accusing him of failing to file proper residency paperwork.
As is protocol, the Election Commission then set a hearing for Bell and Bruell to appear at Wednesday's meeting and make their respective cases.
Bell has filed a document with the Election Commission, his first response to the complaint against him. He accuses Bruell of "unsportsmanlike conduct" for filing the complaint, calling him a "sore loser."
Bell and Bruell both said Tuesday that they will attend the hearing.
Asked about the pattern of residency issues in this election between Peterson, Bell and a City Council candidate who withdrew last month after a similar challenge, Interim Administrator of Elections Scott Allen said the onus to prevent residency issues is on candidates providing accurate information.
"The Election Commission advises every candidate of eligibility requirements when they pick up their petition," he wrote Friday, when asked about the series of residency challenges. "When a challenge is filed or a complaint is received, we review each instance to determine if the qualifications are met and if not, then a formal hearing is required."
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.