Questions asked about candidates' intentions in attending campaign events

Becky Campbell • Jan 18, 2014 at 8:57 PM

Attending the political campaign kickoff for a candidate could be perceived as showing support for that person, but on the other hand, it might not mean that at all.

At least that’s what two men running for public office said after their appearance at the campaign kickoff for Craig Ford’s race for Washington County sheriff on Thursday was publicized.

When local media reported that District Attorney General Tony Clark — who is running for re-election — and Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks — who is running for Criminal Court Judge Part I — attended the event in support of Ford, they balked at the attention and being dubbed “supporters” of Ford.

“I go to all these events,” Clark said. “I go to meet people.”

Clark said he’s attended events hosted by Brooks and plans to attend announcement events for Lisa Nidiffer Rice, who is running against Brooks. She was not at Ford’s event. Another judicial candidate who came late to Ford’s event was Assistant District Attorney General Will Monk, who is running for General Sessions Judge Part 3.

Brooks also said he was there to meet people — potential supporters for his own campaign.

Neither Brooks nor Clark opted to wear the Ford campaign stickers being passed out at the door, but their presence alone was enough to raise the eyebrows of other political camps.

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Apparently Sheriff Ed Graybeal was surprised to hear some of the names of attendees at Ford’s announcement, but wouldn’t express his opinion of those appearances.

“I think everybody does different things. What I do, I have my own race to run so I don’t go to a lot of different camps just simply because sometimes when you walk in a door, there’s a perception you’re on that person’s side. I run my own campaign and support the people I want to, but generally don’t go to a lot of functions because of that,” Graybeal said.

“That’s not to say I’m not supporting people, but when you walk in the door somewhere, there’s a perception of why you’re there. I have my own department and my own race to run and that’s just how I feel about it.”

Brooks, who is in his first political campaign, said he’s out in the community at many events to meet voters.

“Since I am a candidate for Criminal Court judge, I am not endorsing or campaigning for anyone other than myself. At Mr. Ford’s event, I politely declined to wear any sticker that would constitute an endorsement,” Brooks said Friday.

“My motivation in attending another candidate’s event is simply to meet voters. You will likely see me at events for competing candidates. And I would expect those candidates might go to events put on by my opposition. They need to meet voters too.

“Our goal is to meet people, wherever they are, and make them comfortable with the idea of voting for us,” Brooks said.

County Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford also attended Ford’s kickoff, but said it was a matter of “mutual respect.”

Rutherford’s presence, he said, made no declaration of who he supports for sheriff.

“The bottom line is, they invite you, you go and you make an appearance and you leave,” Rutherford said.

“You don’t shut them out, you don’t get involved in their campaign. When you’re running for any political position ... you better be running for yourself, (but) you don’t wear your stickers or pass out your cards at their events; you don’t promote yourself,” he said.

Other local candidates at Ford’s event included several county commissioners.

As for Ford, he said he didn’t necessarily take the presence of other candidates to mean they support him and his campaign.

“I could see where folks make that assumption. Most anybody that enters any kind of political endeavor is always looking for a crowd that’s gathering somewhere to talk to people themselves,” Ford said.

“You don’t ever want to involve yourself in another candidate’s race,” he said.

Ford, like other candidates, said he has received invitations to other events and has attended at least one of those.

“You do what you can to get your message heard. From time to time you’re going to make people mad,” he said.

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