Another day, another allegation of dirty campaigning against Greg Vital.
On July 25, this page endorsed Vital in the Republican primary for the open 10th District state Senate seat, but we expressed our concern about his “win-at-all-cost mentality.” Since that time, that win-at-all-cost attitude has turned Vital from a promising candidate into a loathsome embarrassment.
The Times Free Press reported on Monday that “an official complaint has been filed with the U.S. attorney’s office accusing state Senate candidate Greg Vital’s campaign of voter tampering and potential fraud.”
Colby Knecht, president of the Hamilton County Young Democrats, and Paul Smith, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party allege that workers for Vital’s campaign packed black residents into vans, drove them to polling locations and then encouraged them to vote for Vital during early voting.
The website Nooga.com published a picture, taken by Knecht, of an empty white van emblazoned with Vital campaign’s signs outside a polling location. Smith, in a phone interview, claims that the photo was taken after the van’s driver led a group of black voters inside, asked them to pick Republican primary ballots and urged them to vote for Vital.
On top of the more serious voter tampering and fraud charges, the van was parked within 100 feet of the voting precinct, another violation of voting laws since the van was adorned with campaign signs.
The Vital campaign denied the Democrats’ allegations of campaign workers escorting voters into polling places and attempting to influence their vote.
Smith’s response? “Vital couldn’t remember if he graduated from college, so I’m not surprised he can’t remember his involvement in this, either.”
Not a bad point, actually.
At a May 31 candidate forum sponsored by the Hamilton County Young Republicans, Vital claimed that he “finished up” Southern Adventist University in 1979. It turns out that Vital never actually graduated.
When asked about his false claim that he graduated college, Vital told Times Free Press reporter Chris Carroll, that the remark was “a Freudian slip” and “a mistake.”
Everybody is entitled to a mistake, right?
It turns out, however, that Vital’s college claim appears less of a mistake and more of a pattern of lies.
Carroll identified other instances in which Vital was identified as a graduate of Southern Adventist University, including a 2011 profile and interview in Blush Magazine, a local women’s magazine, and website for Bragg Point condominiums in Missionary Ridge — a project Vital co-developed.
Vital admitted that he may have provided the false information about his educational background to the creators of the website, but was unwilling to say for sure.
He was also initially unwilling to say for sure whether his campaign had any involvement in sending a mailer to 10th District voters featuring a copy of a 1997 protective order against Republican primary opponent Todd Gardenhire. Rather than turning voters against Gardenhire, the mailer made the Vital campaign, who many assumed were behind the mail piece, look like it was playing dirty.
Several days after the outrage over the mail piece began, and two days after Vital refused to deny his campaign’s involvement in sending the mailer, Vital’s spokesman Rob Alderman finally issued a news release stating, “Neither Greg nor anyone associated with this campaign had anything to do with the mailing of those public documents.”
While it isn’t yet known if the Vital campaign had any role in the mailer, it wouldn’t surprise many political insiders who have watched Vital’s candidacy play out.
A Republican state lawmaker from outside the Chattanooga area told this page that when Vital was considering running for the 10th District state Senate seat, he used his personal wealth to intimidate other would-be candidates from entering the race.
According to the legislator, Vital told both Gardenhire and Vince Dean, who represents East Ridge in the state house and was considering running for the open Senate seat, “I’ve got more money than God, so don’t bother running.”
This callous and arrogant threat to buy the election appears to be the one thing that Vital has not changed his story on. According to state campaign finance records, he has poured $125,000 of his own money into his campaign.
At the end of the day, there are more accusations against Vital and his campaign than proof. But when Vital’s list of alleged offenses may include: corrupt campaigning, misrepresenting his education, coordinating — and then denying involvement with — a dodgy mail piece, and threatening and intimidating his would-be opponents, it’s hard to believe that there’s not some fire associated with all that smoke.
Greg Vital may make a fine state senator, but the 10th District voters should ask themselves if they want to be represented by someone who does not appear to be a decent person.