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Mayoral choice impacts entire state

S everal points appear obvious as the Democratic primary for Jackson’s mayoral race enters its final stages.

The turnout, weather cooperating, should be large. A field of 12 hopefuls would seem to guarantee voter turnout will exceed the 44,556-count that participated four years ago in the same party primary. Add to that list the names of 37 candidates who seek one of seven city council positions, and the potential for a big vote number seems assured.

That the long ballot is full of experienced campaigners and quality public officials, many with good organizations and strong support, suggests a May 19 runoff is a certainty. And given historical preferences of the past, the primary winner should easily earn the post that pays $120,000 annually and oversees city leadership for the next four years.

That any mayor other than an African-American or a Democrat, then, would be a surprise.

Brad Chism, the Millsaps graduate and Rhodes Scholar, veteran political observer, onetime statewide candidate himself and co-founder of Zata3, a respected political polling consultant with offices in Jackson and Washington, adds another definite.

He says the city will elect a new mayor, ending tenure of the often flamboyant and controversial Frank Melton at a single term.

Admitting the former television executive’s loyal base could push him into a runoff slot, Chism adds quickly, “but I cannot envision a scenario that the alternative to Mr. Melton would be less attractive.” In other words, if the unpredictable and embattled Melton makes the runoff, the other person will win and perhaps handily after what would promise to be deep scrutiny of the past four years.

Identifying who that person is, of course, remains the significant question.

Former Mayor Harvey Johnson, current city council member Marshand Crisler, state Sen. John Horhn,  Hinds County Tax Collector Eddie Fair and onetime police chief Robert Johnson  have separated themselves from the pack. All have leadership experience as public officials. Each has raised significant money. All have pockets of support, most that stretches across the city.

How they spend their final hours before Tuesday’s polls open, how they champion messages of running for and not against, how they maximize their available funds to reach undecided voters and how successfully they sway the minority white vote will certainly impact the outcome. Final margins could be thin.

The issues are familiar.

Jackson voters, frustrated during recent years, seek qualities that address leadership, accountability, competency, transparent communication and fiscal management. They long for attention to crime prevention, drainage control, road and street repair and overall infrastructure improvements. They seek a commitment that embraces development, jobs and wealth generation. And a dose of trust wouldn’t hurt. 

As important as the outcome is locally, it expands past the city limits of Mississippi’s capital city.

It impacts all citizens of the state.

In the simplest of terms, Chism says those who explore opportunities in and images of Mississippi  — media, economic developers — look first to Jackson. It is the capital city, the largest city, the axis of interstate transportation, the hub of governmental decisions, the base of cultural activities, the center of commerce, the heart of entertainment, the outlet of shopping and even the site of events like the state fair and high school sports championships that perhaps give our own young people their first exposure to life outside their homes and comfort zones.

Chism suggests the next mayor will have to understand commerce and public policy, walking the fine line that courts development and redevelopment without appearing not to care about the dispossessed.   He will have to rebuild what has been a fractured relationship with the Legislature, embrace the window of opportunity through an imaginative response to the approaching stimulus program and polish an image and reputation that wears still some unnecessary tarnish.

The optimistic news is that the job is a good one getting better, that positive things are happening and can expand and that a fulltime, visionary mayor can make a difference.

Choosing that person, then, is a task of the highest priority.


Contact MBJ editor and publisher Ed Darling at ed.darling@msbusiness.com or by calling (601) 364-1021.


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