The May 5 mayoral primary election that got most of the ink was in Jackson, where controversial Mayor Frank Melton was defeated in his bid for a second term. (Melton died two days later at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson.) However, it was not the only headline-grabber as some mayoral contests offered surprises, and the Jackson race was not the only one where the incumbent lost or faces a May 19 run-off election.
Jackson aside, perhaps the most-watched mayoral races were on the Coast. With Hurricane Katrina recovery still underway, city leadership there is of critical importance.
The Gulfport race was of high interest as incumbent Mayor Brent Warr, who faces charges of Katrina-related fraud, did not run. The primary here made news for the rout administered by former public works director Clyde Williams on the Democratic side and former banker George Schloegel on the Republican side. Both men took more than 65 percent of the vote.
Incumbent Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway pulled off a similar drubbing of his opponent, pulling 65 percent of the vote. He will face Democrat Jesse Kennedy Jr., a new-arrival on the political scene and the only Democrat in the hunt, in the June 2 general election.
The Coast’s most venomous race, the Republican primary in Ocean Springs, turned out also to be the closest. Scott Walker pulled 52 percent of the vote, beating Jackson County Supervisor John McKay. Walker now squares off Democratic incumbent Mayor Connie Moran, who faced no primary competition.
Compared to the Coast races, Hattiesburg’s primary was ho-hum. Incumbent Democratic Mayor Johnny DuPree easily defeated Shawn O’Hara, who has made a career of running unsuccessfully for public office. DuPree faces no general election opposition.
Also in the Pine Belt, Democratic incumbent Mayor Melvin Mack won the nomination with 54 percent of the vote. Vying for a second term, Mack will face Independents Anthony Hudson and Daniel “Coach” Darby in the general election.
There was no incumbent in Meridian as multi-term Mayor John Robert Smith elected not to run. Democrat and businessman Percy Bland pulled more than 70 percent of the vote in some precincts in a walk-over. He will face the race’s only Republican, Chari Berry, in the general election.
Starkville Mayor Dan Camp joins Melton as an incumbent mayor of a major city to lose at the polls. Camp, a Democrat, was looking for his second term. The Democratic contender is yet to be determined as Alderman Matt Cox and attorney Parker Wiseman will meet again in the run-offs. The winner will face Republican and political newcomer Marnita Henderson.
Just up the road in Tupelo, an interesting general election is on tap. Democrat Doyce Deas and Republican Jack Reed Jr., both popular in their community, easily won their primary contests. They will vie for the right to succeed Mayor Ed Neelly, who chose not to seek re-election.
Down in Vicksburg, attorney Paul Winfield won the Democratic primary in a crowded field. He will face Independent incumbent Mayor Laurence Leyens in the general election.
Races in Mississippi’s smaller cities offered some drama, as well. In Pontotoc, there was something of a surprise as longtime Democratic incumbent Mayor Bill Rutledge lost to former alderman Jeff Stafford. Stafford pulled 55 percent of the vote in a relatively easy victory.
Southaven Mayor Greg Davis won over Republican rival Mitch Wright.
Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson won the Republican nomination, taking more than 65 percent of the vote. He and Independent Danny Phillips will fight it out.In nearby Olive Branch, incumbent Republican Mayor Sam Rikard could not draw a majority of the vote, and is looking at a run-off with Jessie Medlin. That winner will vie for the seat against Democrat Dale A.J. Bradshaw and Independent Randy Smith.
Incumbent Mayor Jimmy Foster is out in Pearl. Brad Rogers won the Republican primary, and will face Democrat Don Jackson.
Incumbent Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee pulled off perhaps the biggest victory of all. Fighting for a sixth term, McGee breezed to victory, garnering more than 70 percent of the vote. He faces no general election competition.
Canton Mayor Fred Esco Jr.’s bid was less than stellar. The Democrat faces a run-off after finishing second to physician and former alderman Dr. William Truly.