By Camm Ashford
Two candidates running for Hamilton County district attorney had an opportunity last Tuesday night to lay out their platform to voters.
Republican candidate and current Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston and Democrat John Allen Brooks faced off from 7-8:30 p.m. during “Conversation & Votes,” a Zoom event hosted by the Chattanooga Hamilton County Branch of the NAACP.
The event was also streamed live on the NAACP’s Facebook page.
According to the Rev. Ann Jones Pierre, local NAACP branch president, Republican candidate Coty Wamp “declined the invitation.”
In a published statement, Wamp–who serves as general counsel for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office–said, “Unfortunately, I had another speaking engagement with the Tennessee Valley Republican Women that has been planned since December.”
Explaining the ground rules of “Conversation & Votes,” Rev. Pierre noted, “This is a conversation, not a debate. Our purpose is to give information.”
Questions for the candidates came from the NAACP as well as concerned citizens, Rev. Pierre said.
When the candidates were asked by moderator Dr. Edna Varner why voters should choose them, Pinkston–who has served as district attorney since 2014–said, “I’m a prosecutor, not a politician,” citing his advantage in the race because of his experience within the department.
Pinkston also pointed out that the NAACP honored him in 2019 with the Thurgood Marshall Award in the area of Law Enforcement for Civil Rights and Community Activism.
Pinkston was the first white recipient of the award, the highest honor bestowed upon an individual by the local NAACP.
Brooks, former County Commissioner and chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said, “Protecting the rights of the most vulnerable motivates me. It is extremely important to treat everybody professionally.”
Pinkston has recently come under fire for having his wife and her brother working in his office, and late last month placed the two family members on leave following a state ruling against his office for nepotism.
“It’s a question for the voters,” Pinkston said of the nepotism charge. “And understand, too, that a family member could be the most qualified for a position. Or may not have been a family member when hired.”
Brooks had similar thoughts on the subject .
“Nepotism isn’t against the law in the county, so it’s up to the voters,” he said.
Both candidates also had similar views on the role of the juvenile court system, mental health, drug addiction and privatation of the prison system (both were against).
The primary election will take place May 3, with Pinkston and Wamp being the only Republicans on the ballot.
Democrat Brooks is unopposed in the primary.