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‘I’m coming after you’: Sparks fly in AL-5 post-debate exchange

Tuesday evening’s fifth congressional district GOP primary runoff debate proved that there was no love lost between Madison County Commission chairman Dale Strong and former Huntsville City Schools superintendent Casey Wardynski.

The candidates’ combative tones, which had been expressed largely through television ads throughout the race, were on display during the primetime debate hosted by Nexstar’s WHNT News 19.

However, the contention did not end when the broadcast came to a close.

Yellowhammer News has confirmed with multiple sources, which were independent from the campaigns and close to those involved with the debate, that an exchange occurred between Strong and Wardynski’s spouse, Karen, after the debate concluded.

According to the sources, Mrs. Wardynski approached Strong while the candidates were exiting the debate stage and told the commission chairman, “I’m coming after you. I’m going to get you.”

The exchange was an apparent result of questioning of Wardynski’s tenure as Huntsville City Schools superintendent when the district awarded a contract to Pinnacle Schools, which then-Karen Lee formerly served as CEO prior to entering into marriage with Wardynski.

A relationship was eventually formed between the two.

According to Wardynski, understanding that the relationship would present the optics of ethical challenges, he sought to address the issue with school district leadership.

“[I] brought in the [school] board attorney on August 7, and I told him I thought I should resign, that if I had a relationship with her that would be improper,” said Wardynski in response to the debate moderator. “He assured me I didn’t need to do that. And he would contact the ethics folks. … The following Monday, I talked to every board member at coffee and told them the same thing.”

He continued, “I thought I should resign since I supervised her. It would create an ethical challenge that I didn’t want to have. They said ‘No, no stay.’ On the 13th of September, my attorney wrote a letter and hand carried it and never got an answer. So on the 15th, one month in, I resigned because I thought it would create an ethical problem.”

Strong took the opportunity to lambast Wardynski over the perceived ethical challenge.

The commission chairman pointed to “some 800 [teachers] that were relieved of their jobs that did a lot less than what he did with this Pinnacle contract where he was getting personal sexual gratification from that contract.”

Later in the debate, Wardynski labeled Strong as a “scumbag” for the remark.

“He accused me of taking sexual favors from somebody to do work. You know, that’s a scumbag in my book,” Wardynski said of Strong. “This fellow has never served his country under the uniform or under the flag. I’ve got three kids serving around the world. They get the list of this garbage. They don’t appreciate it.”

In response to Mrs. Wardynski’s “I’m coming after you” warning, Strong countered, “OK, no-bid contract.”

Adding to the tension between Strong and Wardynski, Paul Caron, who serves as news director for News 19, told Yellowhammer News that the candidates did not shake hands after the debate concluded.

The Republican primary runoff election for the North Alabama congressional race will take place next Tuesday, June 21.

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL

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