With the county primary less than a month away, the Washington County mayoral race has plunged itself in the mud as candidates Mark Ferguson and Joe Grandy trade barbs while fellow Republican David Tomita appears to be sitting back and watching the show.
At a Thursday press conference, Ferguson addressed an October 2014 video, which he claims is being circulated by his opponents, that shows him disparaging former Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe before taking a swing and purportedly smacking his phone.
As he was leaving a 2014 Washington County Republican Women’s meeting at the Blackthorn Club, Wolfe said Ferguson confronted him on the sidewalk about a political action committee he started and took a swing that missed.
“The video speaks for itself,” Wolfe said.
Caution: This video contains vulgar language.
Wolfe said he then pulled out his phone and began recording.
Pointing his finger at Wolfe, Ferguson said, “You’re a chicken-s***, no good son of a bi***.” Ferguson then smacked Wolfe’s phone.
“Go ahead and take my picture. You’re a coward,” Ferguson said.
“Mark, you’re crazy,” Wolfe responded.
“No, I’m not crazy. You’re a chicken-s***, son of a b**** is what you are,” the 2018 mayoral candidate said.
“You better stop,” Wolfe said.
“I just want you to know what kind of chicken-s*** son of a b**** I think you are,” Ferguson said.
“Mark, you can say whatever you want. You need to stop,” Wolfe said.
“Why don’t you go ahead and hit me? See how hard you can hit me,” Ferguson said before concluding with, “I’ll have my day with you.”
Ferguson pointed his finger at Wolfe and walked away as Wolfe trailed behind him. Ferguson then sharply turned around and the video ends.
On Thursday, Ferguson first announced he won’t participate in Saturday’s Washington County GOP mayoral debate, claiming the “deck is stacked” against him, as supporters of his opponent are operating the debate.
Before concluding, Ferguson said he wanted to address something else, referring to the 2014 video.
“Folks, I've been asked about a video that the supporters of my opponent and people running this debate Saturday have sent out by email and other means. This video took place several years ago. It was a bad time. it was a bad day, and I had been pushed to my limit,” Ferguson said.
“If you have seen this video, I want to publicly say I'm sorry for the language in this video. That's not me. It was an ugly conversation, but it was private 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. It doesn't show years of bullying and abuse, slander and taking advantage of small businessmen in this little town.”
Ferguson then boasted that the video shows he won’t back down from the “establishment.”
“It shows I'm not afraid to stand up to the establishment, none of them. I wasn't afraid then and I'm not afraid now. And I will stand up for the people of Washington County, all of you,” the former county commissioner said before walking away without taking questions.
Grandy and Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said they had similar experiences with Ferguson.
In 2014, Ferguson, his campaign’s treasurer, Doyle Cloyd and Alpha Bridger cornered Eldridge inside a George Jaynes Justice Center Courtroom and accused him of lying about inviting County Owned Property Committee members to a Budget Committee meeting.
Eldridge said the group was just trying to “set up political support” for his mayoral opponent that year, Mike Rutherford. A sheriff’s deputy eventually had to physically restrain Cloyd.
Grandy said he was confronted by Ferugson on the courthouse steps after an election night in 2014.
“Really, it’s one of those things I’ve tried to put out of mind, but I remember him saying something about (me) being a two-faced son of a b****. And I really don’t know what he was talking about to be honest with you,” Grandy said.
“He was trying to piss me off so I’d swing at him. He had his finger poking at me, and that’s all it was.”
On Facebook, Grandy’s and Ferguson’s campaigns have attempted to discredit the other with attack ads and videos.
A page called “Taxpayers Fighting Back in Washington County Tennessee,” which lists Bridger as its treasurer, shared a multitude of posts stating Grandy is attending a “meet and greet” with well-known Johnson City Democrat Mickii Carter.
Grandy is also criticized on the Facebook page for his vote to approve the Gray methadone clinic and his vote to deny a Washington County Commission resolution opposing same-sex marriage.
Grandy had responded on his campaign’s Facebook page with his own video, saying it was Ferguson’s 2005 to 2010 commission that raised the county debt.
“Did you know I got the county in debt? Just me, nobody else. They’re saying I got the Justice Center built. Just me, nobody else,” Ferguson responded at his press conference.
Grandy and Tomita have confirmed they will attend Saturday’s Republican debate, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Jonesborough Visitors Center.