In the race for Coffee County Commission in Tullahoma’s District 15, tensions are escalating between the Republican incumbent Mark Kelly and his Democratic opponent, Zak Mohyuddin, who claims Kelly has made statements about him that are “vile, offensive” and “pure lies.”
In a letter to Tullahoma voters dated July 16, Kelly claims Mohyuddin “expressed his beliefs publicly,” that “the American flag should be removed from public buildings because it is a symbol tyranny and oppression; that public prayer should be banned because it insults non-Christians; and that the Bible should be removed from public places.”
Mohyuddin claims that he has never made such statements to anyone, and that Kelly is simply making the whole thing up.
“To me, flags and bibles are objects of respect, regardless of what country or religion they belong to, and I’ve always treated them with respect,” Mohyuddin said.
“This man is saying things about me that don’t reflect my values in any way.”
Since writing his letter to constituents, however, Kelly has modified his claims somewhat.
When asked by The Tennessean where the public statements in question were made, Kelly said Mohyuddin had made the statements “in private conversations with me.”
Mohyuddin, however, told The News Monday that he has not had any private conversations with Kelly for roughly 25 years.
“(Kelly) helped me move 25 years ago, right after I had bought my house through his wife, but we weren’t talking about politics way back then,” Mohyuddin said.
“Since then, I’ve had several public conversations with Mr. Kelly over the years, through work and public meetings, but no private conversations that I can recall.”
Kelly, on the other hand, told The News that he and Mohyuddin have had several private conversations over the years, on the AEDC walking trail, among other places, but when asked if there were any witnesses to these conversations, Kelly said he was not sure.
“It’s just my recollection against his.” Kelly said.
“Zak and I have been friends for years, but I’ve put out some information that sets us apart.
“It’s just like what he said about the wheel tax. He said I was lying about his statements on that, too, but I’ve got his letter to the commissioners to prove it.”
In an email from Mohyuddin to the county commissioners in June, regarding how the county could save money on jail costs, Kelly claims Mohyuddin had expressed support for a wheel tax.
The letter reads, in part, “Now that the Coffee County Commission has taken the option of a wheel tax off the table, there is still a path available to avoid drastic cuts in county services and avoid talk of other tax increases as well.”
“I took (his statement) as a favorable position on the wheel tax,” Kelly said, “and that’s what I communicated to my constituents.
“This has nothing to do with his religion. I support all religions, and I’m glad we can all follow our own in this country, but still, I have my values and he has his, and there is a difference.
“I have a record in office and I think it’s been a good one, and I think the voters can see that.”
Mohyuddin said he believes Kelly is making false claims about him to try to attract votes, but does not believe it will work.
“Mr. Kelly is probably trying to attract votes from people who will only see me in that one dimension, namely my religious faith, and those are probably people who have already made up their minds about me anyway.”
“I’m not running (for office) because of my faith, and that distinction is important.
“I’m running because of the things I want to do for the community, and I believe any reasonable person will be able to see that, if they really look.”
Residents in Coffee County’s District 15 vote at Grace Baptist Church. It is located in the city’s northeast quadrant bordering Country Club Drive, Washington Street and Ovoca Drive.