By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

The election for Washington County’s mayoral office has added another layer to an already heated race and the charges are flying.

According to Republican candidate Joe Grandy, opponent Mark Ferguson has violated campaign finance laws by coordinating his mayoral campaign with a Political Action Committee, Taxpayers Fighting Back.

“The PAC funding mechanism is different than the campaign funding mechanism … and the law, I think, is to provide separation now,” Grandy said.

“There are some basic rules to follow. So campaign finance is one of them. And where there’s a PAC involved and a campaign, they can both work in the same direction; you’re just not allowed to have any coordination.’

“We’ve filed a complaint with the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance … and it’s their responsibility to review the facts and make whatever determination they make,” Grandy said.

On the other side of the race, Washington County mayoral candidate Mark Ferguson held a press conference Thursday to announce he would not attend last Saturday’s Republican Party Candidate Forum, claiming that another candidate’s supporters were going to manipulate the event to put him at a disadvantage.

Ferguson alleged that “people working openly for my opponent are in charge and they are screening questions, trying to give my opponent every advantage, and to hurt me any way they can.”

Following that announcement, Ferguson alleged that his opponent’s supporters and the people running the debate Saturday had released an edited video from 2014 of Ferguson cursing at former mayor Kelly Wolfe and making what appears to be an aggressive move at Wolfe.

In the video, Ferguson refers to Wolfe as a “chicken-s***, son-of-a-b****” numerous times.

In one exchange between Ferguson and Wolfe, Ferguson says, “Why don’t you go ahead and hit me? See how hard you can hit me,” to which Wolfe responds, “Mark, you’re crazy.”

According to Wolfe, “the guy (Ferguson) took a swing at me. Came up from behind me and took a swing at me then. And I was able to get the camera out of my pocket at that point and start filming.”

Ferguson claims the video was sent by email and other means and that the video was shot “several years ago.”

”It was a bad time, it was a bad day and I had been pushed to my limit. If you’ve seen the video I want to say publicly I’m sorry for the language in this video. That’s not me. It was an ugly conversation,” Ferguson said.

“But it was a private conversation until now. It has been edited … it doesn’t show anything that happened before or what was said to me or how my wife and family had been hurt.”

Ferguson claimed that the video “shows I’m not afraid to stand up to the establishment … sometimes they call it hard-ball politics and I can play. Some of these people have forgotten, but I know things on them, too.”

His opening statement concerned Saturday’s debate and his reason for not attending.

“The deck has been stacked, and there’s no way for me to draw anything but a bad hand,” Ferguson said.

“I’m not afraid of questions. But why would anyone put their neck on a chopping block like that?”

The question became moot Friday night after the Saturday  Candidate Forum was cancelled due to concerns regarding “candidate safety,” according to the organizers.

A Facebook post regarding the forum by the Washington County Republican Party’s Chairman W. Turney Williams stated, “the scheduled event would have been conducted in an absolutely fair and open fashion …  any suggestion that the event was ‘rigged’ is not reality based.”

According to Williams, “the Chairman has received text messages delineating specific concerns regarding candidate safety. Unfortunately, in this political environment, we cannot guarantee the physical safety of the candidates or the public at large at this event.”

Early voting in the Republican Primary begins today, April 11. Election day is May 1.