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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 Republican voters next month will select their choice for the next county mayor from among three local entrepreneurs who want to succeed Jim Coppinger as head of Hamilton County's government.

The GOP candidates are Sabrena Smedley, Matt Hullander and Weston Wamp.

(READ MORE: Times Free Press Voter Guide for the 2022 Hamilton County elections)

The only Democrat running for county mayor, Matt Adams, is a 25-year-old contract paralegal who moved to Chattanooga last year after leaving active duty in the U.S. Army. The winner of the May 3 Republican primary election for county mayor will face Adams and two Independent candidates, Richard D. Ford and David Tulis, in the Aug. 4 general election.

The Times Free Press interviewed all three Republican candidates since that is a contested primary.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayoral candidate Matt Hullander touts business experience)

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayoral candidate Sabrena Smedley claims small business and government experience)

Weston Wamp, the 35-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, grew up in a political world and tried unsuccessfully twice to take the seat his father had and become the youngest congressman ever elected to Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.

Although he was narrowly defeated in Republican primary battles with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in 2012 and again in 2014, Wamp said he learned a lot during those campaigns and has used those political skills in the past three years to advocate both for controlling the federal debt by Congress as the founder of the Millennial Debt Foundation and supporting education in Tennessee. Wamp was appointed in 2019 by Gov. Bill Lee to represent the 3rd Congressional District on the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Wamp has also been a leader in Chattanooga's burgeoning startup community. Following a year working in a public relations job in Nashville after he graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2009, Wamp returned to his hometown to help start the Lamp Post Group, a venture incubator that provided both capital and mentorship to growing startups.

Wamp said his grandfather and most of his uncles were self-employed and he grew up seeing and understanding the values of entrepreneurship.

Six years ago, Wamp also was one of the co-founders of the largest startup fund in Chattanooga's history — the Dynamo Fund. Wamp traveled the country selling Chattanooga as an entrepreneurial city and helped raise the initial $18 million to start Dynamo Ventures, the first major logistics startup fund in the country. Dynamo, which last year raised another $43.5 million, helped accelerate the growth of Chattanooga's trucking and logistics industry. The fund was overseen by the founders of the former Access America trucking firm — Ted Alling, Allan Davis and Barry Large — as well as Wamp and Santosh Sankar, the director of the Dynamo Accelerator.

Aided by the fund, local logistics enthusiasts have labeled Chattanooga as a "freight alley" and continue to look for new business opportunities to support and grow America's shipping industry amid new technologies and supply chain challenges.

Wamp has also used his communications skills as host for six years of a radio talk show, The Pitch, on the local ESPN radio station, and as a host of the podcast "Swamp Stories" for Issue One, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce the role of money in politics. The Millennial Debt Foundation has hosted seminars and programs with top congressional leaders and the foundation is working to come out with specific recommendations to develop an overall deficit reduction plan by this summer.

"I think my whole career working in business and the non-profit realm on some of the most difficult issues is trying to be a problem solver," Wamp said. "The county has extreme challenges and we need new leadership to take those problems on."

Wamp, a father of four children, ages 1 to 7, said "being a Dad is the most defining part of my resume."

As a parent, he said he is focused on the long term and the importance of public education. But beyond his own family, Wamp said his experience in recruiting and growing companies has also convinced him of the need to improve opportunities to local students to help economic growth, to build up families and to reduce crime and improve public safety.

"These are all interrelated problems and require some new approaches and leadership," Wamp said.

Although he enjoys a well-known name due to his father Zach, Weston Wamp has never been employed full time by his father and has started most of the businesses where he has worked throughout his career. Weston Wamp has worked as a senior strategist for Issue One, which also has contracted with Zach Wamp, and his financial disclosures also show that Weston Wamp was paid by ZW Consulting, the local business owned by Zach Wamp.

Weston Wamps' sister, Coty Wamp, is a former prosecutor and public defender who is also running in the May 3 primary election in Hamilton County as a Republican candidate for district attorney, trying to unseat incumbent Neal Pinkston. If both of the Wamps are elected, Weston Wamp as county mayor would oversee a budget that provides some funding for the district attorney's office his sister would head, although both siblings would be constitutional officers accountable to the public that elected them.

Weston Wamp has pledged to serve only two terms if he is elected mayor and has pledged to put all of his holdings in a blind trust if he is elected mayor to ensure that there is no way his mayoral decisions could benefit him personally.

"The county mayor, more than any position in local government, has extraordinary conflicts if they have any local investments," Wamp said. "It's a shame that Matt and Sabrena won't do that as Mayor [Tim] Kelly and Gov. [Bill] Lee have done. Even Donald Trump, as complicated as his holdings were, put those in a blind trust, and I think that shouldn't be a big ask for our county mayor."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

 

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