In last night's battle of the jabs—officially known as the latest Jackson mayoral debate—the gloves came off despite the candidates' earlier pledge that neither would engage in personal attacks.
The exchanges that took place between the two were no-holds-barred, signaling a potentially muddy race to the finish going into the April 22 runoff election.
At the Mississippi College School of Law, Ward 6 Councilman Tony Yarber and attorney Chokwe A. Lumumba went head to head, addressing city issues and inquiring about each other's suitability to serve the Jackson people.
When Lumumba asked Yarber why he "did not have the courage to vote" when it came time to cast a vote to place the 1-percent sales tax on the ballot, Yarber said he was away working with Alignment Jackson, a coalition working to improve Jackson's public schools. Lumumba retorted that Yarber had several opportunities to publicly give his support for the tax, but declined to do so.
Yarber hit back at Lumumba's biggest perceived weakness—experience, including in the area of managing large municipal budgets.
With Yarber running largely on his experience in public education, Lumumba seized on information from the Mississippi State Department of Education showing that under Yarber's leadership as principal, Marshall Elementary School was considered "failing."
"The best thing you ever did for Marshall Elementary was leave," Lumumba said.
Yarber said the school already had a low rating when he took over as principal, adding that he helped change the school's culture by increasing enrollment.
Lumumba also raised questions about Yarber's campaign spending, particularly the fact that reports show Yarber loaned the campaign $20,000, but also draws a salary of $800 per week from the fundraising committee. Yarber said his contributions came from "everyday people" and not from people in Detroit, where Lumumba's father was born and maintains a wide network of support.
"You don't know anything about my money," Yarber shot back.
Sam Hall and Stephanie Maxwell moderated over the debate, which was held at Mississippi College School of law.
Questions centered around addressing the city's sewer and drainage system, the moving of the Sanderson Farms Golf Tournament, crime, business development, neighborhood repair, and even what they appreciated about the previous candidates.
The format also gave the men an opportunity to address one another directly, opening up the door for the opponents to make a few scripted digs at one another.
When asked if they would make it a priority to appoint a public-works director during their first 100 days in office, Yarber said he would absolutely make it a priority and that he will ensure that someone who is qualified and experienced holds the position. He also said that he has been working to set aside a budget for a drainage plan.
Lumumba said he plans to build on the plans that his father, late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, had already began, which involves fixing creek systems to alleviate some of the problems.
Both candidates felt that the Sanderson Farms Tournament, which was previously held in Madison but has recently been moved to Jackson, will be a great opportunity for the city and should be a welcomed event. However, Lumumba felt that the welcoming should be done within reason, saying that the people of Jackson should always come first.
With respect to solving city crime, Yarber said that one solution is incentivizing officers by raising wages and treating them with more respect. Lumumba agreed that higher pay would make officers feel more appreciated, but said that he also want to take a holistic approach to crime by establishing more programs targeted at youth.
When asked what should be taken care of first, bringing in business or repairing neighborhoods, Yarber said that both initiatives had to happen simultaneously and citywide, not just in parts of Jackson. Lumumba agreed, saying that the city's economy also has to change by developing cooperatives that help people support businesses.
Yarber and Lumumba were asked what they appreciated about the candidates from the first election, to which they both stated that they liked Regina Quinn's ideas about aiding women in the workplace and City Council President Melvin Priester's understanding of the city's need for more advanced technology. Yarber added that he also admired Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon's expertise on the city's issues.
Today, outside Jackson City Hall, Quinn endorsed Lumumba, citing his commitment to ensuring equal pay and fair treatment of women and small businesses in both city hiring and awarding of contracts.