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

The May 3 Republican Democratic Primary is clearly drawing nigh, and the races that already were hot now are crackling with attempted one-ups, accusations, and he-said-she-said retorts.

Last week's news and many mailboxes (digital ones, as well as those planted by the roadsides) carried stories, ads and mailers that — pick 'em all — depicted the three GOP mayor candidates in poor light.

Matt Hullander, the former Hullco owner who touts his business experience was said in one mailer to be "sued multiple times for paying illegal wages," "admitting to violating Fair Labor Standards Act" and selling his "company during lawsuits."

Radio listeners heard an ad accusing Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley of snugging "up to liberal teachers unions." She would "hand our children over to woke, liberal activists," according to the ad and another mailer. (Never mind that the idea of a Tennessee teachers union as "liberal" is at best laughable.)

Smedley and Hullander pointed fingers to Weston Wamp, who denied knowledge of the ads and said he had nothing to do with them. Still, some of his supporters paid for them, so the other candidates were quick to point fingers and cry foul.

Chattanoogans for Responsible Government — with a treasurer named Adam Boeselager (founder of Legacy Box, according to his Twitter page) and an officer named Jacob T. Hucherson (Founder, CEO at Clutch Recruitment & Nightingale Talent, according to his LinkedIn page) — was behind the ads. Both Boeselager and Hucherson have supported Wamp's mayoral campaign.

The organization sent NewsChannel 9 this statement: "There are those of us that think other voices should be heard. Here in Hamilton County, we're far too apathetic about our political candidates. In a race that severely lacks depth, we wanted to bring transparency to important topics. If a mayoral candidate can't handle public scrutiny, they probably wouldn't make a very good mayor."

We would agree. The lawsuits against Hullander's former company are public. Smedley's past eight years as an ever glad-handing politician also has been public.

And don't think this so-called "negative" campaigning hasn't been on full display all along. In one of Smedley's first ads, she took on both Hullander and Wamp, crooning: "I'm the only one running for mayor with a lick of experience in doing the job. That's what this county needs — not political sons trying to expand the family business."

Hullander, too, has been quick to throw elbows at Wamp and Smedley — all on full display in every debate and public appearance of the candidates that we've seen. And early on, Hullander hired what Wamp called in a statement, "the nastiest campaign operator in Tennessee who proceeded to pay for mass phone calls falsely accusing me of supporting 'leftist' policy and 'illegal immigration."

Don't be distracted by any of the whines. Look instead at what the candidates themselves say when asked about substantive issues our county must deal with — like how we'll pay for better education, whether we should spend taxpayer money on sports stadiums instead of our kids and how we'll deal with needed infrastructure expansions. You can see previous debates online at the Times Free Press/Local 3 News, NewsChannel 9 and WTCI.

You also can read our GOP primary endorsement for mayor and our thoughts on cross-over voting.

And if you're still undecided, there's another debate Thursday evening at 6 p.m. hosted by the Chattanooga Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and the the Hamilton County Voters Coalition. You can watch it live at facebook.com/NCBWChattanooga/

Wamp said Monday he's encouraged about where the race stands, and he thanked the Chattanooga Area Building Trades Council, which represents 12 skilled labor organizations and nearly 10,000 local skilled tradesmen for their endorsement this week of him as county mayor.

"Mr. Wamp's plan to scale Hamilton County growth by adding vocational-based skills to the Hamilton County school system is something the Chattanooga Area Building Trades sees as necessary," the group said a statement.

It's a clear testament to Wamp's emphasis on education and expanding career training within the public school system — an absolute necessity if we are to improve the county's workforce as a crucial way to keep the county and its tax coffers growing.

When the General Election rolls around in August, this county needs the best choices for mayor we can possibly have. Democrat Matt Adams, who is unopposed on his primary ballot, is one. Weston Wamp, is another. Wamp is far and away the best choice we have on the Republican ballot.

May 3 — next Tuesday — is the Primary election day.

Tuesday is the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot, and early voting ends Thursday.

Make a plan and vote. Our county depends on it.

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