The online news outlet Nashville Scene reports Jonathan Mason took down a gif with the phrase ‘Pro-gun’ placed over a picture of middle school aged children at a YMCA-sponsored event.
Mason is running for the seat Rep. Marc Gravitt will vacate. Gravitt represents East Ridge in the state legislature.
Melissa Loyd of Hixson says her friend saw the post and alerted her to it.
“I was in total shock, to be honest,” said Loyd, “My friend was researching political candidates. That’s her district, and she recognized my daughter in the picture and contacted me immediately and said ‘Are you aware of this?’ and I was like ‘Absolutely not.'”
“I would’ve never approved a picture of my child for a political ad,” said Loyd.
Loyd says the event was a school field trip.
“I would’ve been fine with them (YMCA) using her picture related to the Youth and Government specifically but definitely there was nothing about it being used for outside purposes,” says Loyd, “and as far as I know the YMCA was not aware that he was using that picture.”
According to Nashville Scene, a spokesperson for the YMCA of Middle Tennessee says the group was not aware the photo was used in a political post, and asked for it to be taken down.
CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga James Dunn says they ask parents on their participation forms whether they allow their children’s images to be used in media.
“When we saw the ad go up for the first time, we were actually notified by the YMCA of Nashville that that had happened,” said Dunn, “It was a little complicated. Their program being operated here in Chattanooga and when we saw that we spoke with them immediately and then asked that they contacted the candidate and asked that those could be taken down with the understanding that we don’t allow ourselves – the YMCA – to be used in any kind of political statements.”
A full statement from Jonathan Mason’s campaign reads:
“It is disappointing but not surprising that my democratic opponent Esther Helton, who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, would be offended by my Christian Conservative, pro-life, pro 2nd amendment, pro-family, pro-business agenda. I will never apologize for my conservative values, values I intend to push in Nashville. As the father of two elementary age children, school safety is my number one priority. As the next State Representative, I will do all I can to increase the funding for School Resource Officers in our public schools.”
Esther Helton’s campaign released a statement, saying Mason was lying about her being involved in the post:
“I have been busy running my campaign and not following the activities and lies of my opponent in this race. I was contacted by a reporter from the Nashville Scene on Tuesday of this week while I was knocking on doors in District 30. I was asked for a response to his FB ad. I knew nothing of the ad and told the reporter. She informed me that she had told Mr. Mason that I or anyone on my campaign team had anything to do with this complaint. His statement about me being involved is a complete lie. He continues to spread lies about me. I have voted Republican since 1994 and have been a delegate in the County GOP since 2011. Again Mr. Mason is lying about me.”
Chattanooga School for the Creative Arts principal Debbie Smith says some of the school’s children are also in that post.
She tells NewsChannel 9 in a statement, “No political candidate has the right to use children in a political ad without their parents’ consent.”
Hamilton County Department of Education spokesman Tim Hensley had this to say:
“The district was not aware of a photo being used in this manner. Any photo release used by the district would not include use by someone outside of the school district. The district was not contacted about using a photo in this manner and we were not aware until this email of its existence.
We are attempting to contact the candidate.”