In the spring and summer of 2005, Frank Melton was the most popular man in Jackson.
After Melton defeated then-incumbent Jackson mayor Harvey Johnson in the Democratic primary, the general election was a mere formality.
Melton got 88 percent of the vote; his opponent, Republican Rick Whitlow, got 12 percent. It was a political trouncing.
Almost immediately after he took office, one of Melton’s most ardent supporters back then says the promise of his campaign began to unravel.
“The candidate Frank Melton and what he said he would do is not at all the Mayor Frank Melton who showed up for work the first day in office,” said Jeff Good, Jackson restaurateur who co-chaired Melton’s finance committee in 2005. “I was very close to the campaign, and I saw problems right off the bat.”
Melton enjoyed a tidal wave of support from Jackson’s business community. He promised them the plodding and indecisive days of Johnson’s tenure were over. He said he shared their economic development vision for downtown.
Little of what Melton said actually came true.
Melton promised that his administration would not get bogged down in political bickering or racial issues. He basically told special interest groups to get lost.
“It’s almost like many of us feel that there was a bait and switch,” Good said. “What Frank’s tenure has been is the antithesis of that, plus a whole lot of craziness. Those of us who supported him, who were in the business community, the folks who collected checks for him, all we were looking for is someone who was going to bring business structure and accountability and all the things Frank said he was going to do. The behavior was problematic from the jump.”
Melton’s campaign was Good’s first foray into politics. He was drawn by Melton’s promise to bring a culture of inclusion into governing Mississippi’s largest city. A former television executive, Melton’s business experience made the Jackson business community feel like they had an opportunity to have a voice again in the mayor’s office.
Most business folks agreed that Johnson’s strength was as a planner, but it was a rarity that an economic development project was not met with some form of resistance or stalling tactic from City Hall.
Melton’s style and his campaign slogans revolved taking action immediately, and doing away with red tape that had killed deals like the proposed downtown baseball stadium that eventually landed in Pearl.
“With him coming from the business world, he obviously and clearly thought that things worked in politics like they did in business,” said Jackson rapper Kamikaze, who is part of the new investment group attempting to redevelop Farish Street.
“When he found that he couldn’t just snap his fingers and make things happen, that you had to go through the bureaucracy that exists in government, he got frustrated and acted out against that.”
That confrontation with the slow wheels of government and Melton’s adverse reaction to it manifested itself in August 2006, when Melton and two of his police bodyguards demolished a duplex Melton said was a crackhouse. Melton has beaten state charges related to the raid; a federal jury deadlocked on similar charges last week.
Prosecutors are mulling trying the case again.
The duplex destruction is perhaps the act that most defines the two sides of Melton: His supporters believed he was ridding Jackson of a public nuisance; his opponents thought what he did was a blatant violation of the Constitution’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.
Either way, the mass of people who voted for him in 2005 most likely will not again this election cycle.
“No one of talent and drive would want to be a part of that circus,” Good said. “He breached the contract. He showed up the day of inauguration and he changed into somebody else.”
Thirteen candidates have filed to run for mayor. The qualifying deadline is March 6.
I always tell people this (about Melton),” Kamikaze said. “As a person, as a philanthropist, as somebody who cares, as someone who had a genuine affinity for the welfare of young people, he’s probably one of the men with the biggest hearts I’ve ever met. When it comes to the actual work of being a mayor and being a leader, he was probably one of the worst and one of the most inefficient I’ve ever seen.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org .