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Lack of mayoral incumbents leaves bigger races wide open

Leadership ‘vacuum’ compelling for races

While mayoral races on the Coast and in the City of Jackson have garnered a lot of press, other races offer just as much intrigue, as much for who is not running as who is.

Incumbent mayors in Meridian, Oxford and Tupelo have announced they will not seek re-election. This “vacuum” at the top has produced many interesting candidates. Some are election veterans; others are seeking office for the first time. Entrepreneurs, police officers, school teachers — mayoral hopefuls in these cities run the gamut.

Meridian

In Meridian, John Robert Smith, who has held the mayor’s office since 1993 and is a past city councilman, has not publicly stated why he chose to not run for re-election. A pharmacist by trade, Smith has not made public his future plans, and has said he would not endorse any candidates.

Republicans’ hopes ride on Cheri Barry, the only GOP candidate. Director of the Key Chapter of the Red Cross and wife of county attorney Rick Barry, Barry said, “Meridian has always been my home, and always will be.”

On the Democrats’ side, there may be a primary runoff. Four candidates have declared for the race. They are:

• Percy Bland — A Meridian businessman, Bland promises to have an inclusive administration, yet one that is not scared to go it alone.

• William Bond Compton Jr. — A schoolteacher, Compton is no campaign rookie — he ran for governor in 2007. He has named healthcare as his first priority.

• Joe Norwood — Norwood represents District 4 on the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, a seat he has held since 2002. He is also a media professional and college instructor.

• Casandra Sloan — A Meridian native, Sloan began her career in Alaska as an award-winning design consultant and human resources specialist. “I have been working hard for years finding jobs for the people of Meridian, and I recognize what it’s going to take to turn this city around,” she said.

Tupelo

In Tupelo, incumbent Republican E.C. “Ed” Neely III is not running again after serving only one term. This has created perhaps the most interesting set of candidates in any of Mississippi’s mayoral races.

Democrat Doyce Hancock Deas is the daughter of noted philanthropist L.D. Hancock. A graduate of Mississippi University for Women and Southern Methodist University, she is councilwoman at large in Tupelo, chair of the Doyce H. Deas Foundation and president of the Learning Skills Center. She promises a campaign that will be “grass roots and people-focused.”

The other Democratic hopeful is Kentrel Boyd. An Aberdeen native who relocated to Houston, Texas, he was a late addition, but has run for Tupelo mayor previously — in 2005 as a Republican. Boyd is a police officer in Nettleton.

There are two Republican candidates vying for the office. James Roy Presley is related to the “King of Rock and Roll,” and his family has extensive experience in political office.

The other Republican is Jack Reed Jr., the son of well-known Tupelo businessman and community leader Jack Reed Sr. Reed Jr. attended Vanderbilt University, graduating with honors, before earning his law degree from the University of Mississippi. He originally practiced law, but today he serves president of the R.W. Reed Company, the family business that is more than 100 years old.

Reed said, “I believe that our citizens are hungry for consensus among our elected leaders; hungry for leadership that recognizes that our competition is Austin, and Charlotte, and Nashville and Birmingham — or Beijing — and not ward versus ward, not council versus mayor, not council versus supervisors.”

Oxford

Oxford Mayor Richard Howorth is leaving that office after two terms. He had said that the he decided not to run for re-election in order to spend more time with his business, Square Books, but that he was mulling running for alderman. However, he subsequently changed his mind and will seek no political office.

There will be no primary elections in Oxford. The candidates for Oxford mayor are Democrat George “Pat” Patterson and Republican E.K. “Ken” McCullough Jr.

Patterson is a familiar name in Oxford politics, having served on the board of alderman for the past eight years. He is also well known in the business community as owner of University Sporting Goods and founder of Oxford University Bank.

“The next four years will be a challenging time financially for local governments. Oxford needs a mayor with experience and a strong financial background. I have those qualifications,” Patterson said.

McCullough is a local businessman, serving in management at Nielsen Company for nearly 20 years.

Primary elections for all mayoral races are slated for May 5. Any runoff elections would be held May 19, with the general election to be held June 2.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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