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Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Republican mayoral candidates Matt Hullander, Sabrena Smedley and Weston Wamp participate in the 2022 Hamilton County mayoral debate sponsored by Local 3 News and the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 11, 2022.

An independent political group backing Weston Wamp for Hamilton County mayor began this week a direct mail and radio advertising campaign targeting his competitors.

The campaign blasted the business record of former Hullco owner Matt Hullander and the union endorsements for Hamilton County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley.

In a radio commercial airing on WGOW Talk Radio 102.3 FM, a group called Chattanoogans for Responsible Government asked why Smedley "is cozying up with the liberal teachers' union," which the ad said has supported masking children and "continues to push their radical woke agenda like critical race theory."

The radio ad said Smedley, who has served two terms as county commissioner, "hasn't made a lick of difference."

In a mailing sent out to prospective Republican voters, Chattanoogans for Responsible Government also criticized Hullander for being sued multiple times "for paying illegal wages" at Hullco and for violating overtime pay requirements for some of its workers.

The attack ads are some of the sharpest yet in the three-candidate field for the Republican primary on May 3 among Hullander, Smedley and Wamp to succeed retiring Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Chattanoogans for Responsible Government was started by Legacybox co-founder Adam Boeselager, who also helped start the Millennial Debt Foundation headed by Wamp. The political group paid more than $7,000 for the radio advertisements on WGOW.

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"In a race that severely lacks depth, we wanted to bring transparency to important topics," Boeselager, the political treasurer for Chattanoogans for Responsible Government, said in a statement Wednesday night. "If a mayoral candidate can't handle public scrutiny, they probably wouldn't make a very good mayor."

Smedley said in a statement Wednesday night she was "disappointed in the underhanded tactics, but I guess that's what other candidates do when they're desperate.

"They're freaking out because we have the momentum," the statement said. "I'm running for all the right reasons, and I'm committed to running a positive, aboveboard campaign."

Hullander also issued a statement.

"Politicians do what politicians do," the statement said. "Clearly Weston Wamp has decided to attack us because he is way behind and running out of time. Folks in Hamilton County are looking for bold conservative leadership to make it better. I had hoped to continue to talk about us the issues that matter to voters and will continue to do so."

In a statement, Wamp denied any involvement in the attack ads.

"My campaign has most certainly not gone negative," he said.

The Hamilton County Education Association voiced its support in late March for Smedley in the county mayoral race, including her in the union's "slate of education champions" in the contested local county races.

Aaron Fowles, a middle school teacher who heads the teacher union's political action committee, said in a phone interview Wednesday night that Wamp did not respond to the association's questionnaire and Smedley "has the experience and a clear policy vision for how to support public education."

Association President Jeanette Omarkhail said in a phone interview Wednesday night the teachers union "worked with the school district and the CDC [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]" but did not specifically address the mask mandate. She said the union supports diversity and equity but has not endorsed the teaching of critical race theory as the radio ad claims.

"I think some people are trying to put us in a box because of what they are hearing about what is happening in California," Omarkhail said. "Every local association is very independent."

Smedley was also endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 673, which represents Hamilton County sheriff's deputies and Chattanooga police officers. Hullander was endorsed by Sheriff Jim Hammond.

Chattanoogans for Responsible Government also sent mailings to many Hamilton County households Wednesday criticizing Hullander, who bought his father's window replacement and remodeling company Hullco and grew it into a $20 million-a-year business before selling the company to West Shore Home last year. The mailings highlight a Department of Labor finding of a violation of overtime pay by Hullco for some installers and for claims in a lawsuit by Hullco bathroom installer Shannon "Doc" Tucker that he was told to keep his timesheets to 40 hours. In his lawsuit, Tucker also said a Hullco vice president bragged that Hullco "came out of this like a bandit."

Although Hullander paid Tucker $17,500 to settle the lawsuit, he did not admit to any wrongdoing and insisted that most of the employees and contractors he worked with for more than two decades "were treated like family."

The mailer asserts, "Hullco employees couldn't trust Matt Hullander" and "Hamilton County can't trust Matt Hullander."

As an independent political group, Chattanoogans for Responsible Government cannot work with any candidates' campaigns, and Wamp insists he has nothing to do with the negative ads. Boeselager is a business partner with Nick Macco, who Wamp named as his campaign's technology and media director.

In an emailed statement, Macco also said he had nothing to do with Chattanoogans for Responsible Government.

Wamp said he is "running a substantive, education-focused campaign about the future of our county.

"I am not involved and, in fact, am legally prohibited from being involved in an outside group," Wamp said in a statement Wednesday night. "But it sounds like they are raising important questions in advance of an important election."

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

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