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Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Republican candidate Weston Wamp speaks during the 2022 Hamilton County mayoral debate on April 11, 2022. Local 3 News and Chattanooga Times Free Press asked viewers to send in questions to be asked during the debate.

Weston Wamp has picked up the endorsement of the construction trade union in Chattanooga, which praised Wamp for his support of vocational training programs as a candidate for Hamilton County mayor.

Wamp, a founder of the Millennial Debt Foundation, the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, announced the support Monday by the Chattanooga Area Building Trades Council. The trades council represents about 10,000 construction trade workers and is one of the first major local groups to endorse Wamp.

Wamp is facing two other Republicans on the May 3 primary ballot to succeed retiring Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Hamilton County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley, a Chattanooga Realtor, is being supported by both the police and teachers' unions, as well as the Realtors Political Action Committee, the political arm of the Greater Chattanooga Realtors association. The International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 673 endorsed Smedley last month, and the Hamilton County Education Association picked Smedley among its "slate of education champions" released in late March.

Matt Hullander, the former owner of Hullco and son of Hamilton County trustee and former commissioner Bill Hullander, has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey and outgoing Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, among more than 100 local supporters he lists on his campaign web site.

In a statement, Chattanooga Area Building Trades Council President Sean-Paul Kimball praised Wamp for his plans to add vocational-based skills to the Hamilton County school system, which Kimball said the unions see as necessary support from governmental leadership.

"The Chattanooga Area Building Trades knows education enables training," he said. "The Chattanooga Area Building Trades endorses Mr. Wamp for the strategic advantage his administration's policies will provide building trades professionals when we recruit top-level skilled employees."

In a statement, Wamp said there may be higher profile endorsements, but he called the trade council's support the most important endorsement so far in the campaign.

"To have the support of the skilled tradesmen of Hamilton County speaks to the mission we are on to bring back vocational education and prepare our workforce and our economy for the future," he said.

Wamp has urged the county to build a downtown vocational school similar to the former Kirkman Technical School that closed in the 1990s.

The construction union workers' endorsement was announced a week after an independent political action group that is backing Wamp, known as Chattanoogans for Responsible Government, criticized Smedley for her support from the Hamilton County Education Association, which the Chattanoogans for Responsible Government said proved that Smedley "is cozying up with the liberal teachers' union." The ad claims the teachers union supports masking children and "continues to push their radical woke agenda like critical race theory."

Hamilton County Education Association President Aaron Fowles said the union has not pushed for mask mandates or advocated for the teaching of critical race theory in Hamilton County schools.

The Chattanooga Area Building Trades Council is part of the AFL-CIO union, which endorsed President Joe Biden and other Democrats. Hullander has aired political ads criticizing Biden and promising a different approach to governing in Hamilton County.

Wamp said in a telephone interview Monday that most construction trade workers in Chattanooga are conservative and the endorsement by local electricians, pipefitters and other trade workers of his education plan and leadership underscores that.

Wamp, a lifelong Republican who started a nonprofit to fight the rising federal deficit, said he was not involved in mailings and radio ads criticizing his opponents last week. But he said the Chattanooga Area Building Trades Council "is very different than a public-sector union" like the teachers and police unions that backed Smedley. Wamp said he didn't fill out the questionnaire from the Hamilton County Education Association "because I am not ideologically aligned with teachers' unions."

GOP voters are picking between Hullander, Smedley and Wamp for the Republican nomination for county mayor, and the winner will appear on the Aug. 4 general election ballot against Democrat Matt Adams.

Tuesday is the last day to request an early ballot for the primary elections, and early voting sites will be open this week through Thursday, according to the Hamilton County Elections Commission.

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

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