"Bennie Thompson is Backing Priester for Mayor, but Why?" by Politics Blog | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Politics Blog

Bennie Thompson is Backing Priester for Mayor, but Why?

Melvin Priester Jr. is getting support from the U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson—their campaign radio ads are even similar—who represents most of Jackson on the U.S. House of Representatives and is the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation.

It's an interesting turn of events, considering the following:

  • Thompson was fairly tight with the administration of late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba. You might remember last year when Thompson came out strongly for then-Councilman Lumumba who was running against upstart Jonathan Lee. Thompson unleashed a torrent of anti-Lee publicity, linking Lee's supporters to white Republicans who oppose President Barack Obama. In kind, Lumumba came out albeit half-heartedly for Thompson's pick in a Hinds County supervisor's race. In addition, a former Thompson staffer, Synarus Green, holds a key appointment at city hall.

  • Charlie Horhn, Thompson's longtime state field director, is the father of state Sen. John Horhn, who is also running.

  • There are so many people in the race, that it's difficult to know what could happen at this point. One would expect an operator of Thompson's stature to sit back and chill and see how the race shakes out before throwing his weight around.

So why is Thompson on team Priester so early?

It could be that his support of Lumumba was a marriage of necessity more than a genuine adherence to the principles Lumumba stood for. Again, going back to last year, Thompson wasn't vocal in the mayor's race until it came down to Lumumba and Lee, whom Thompson regarded as too-white-friendly.

Thompson is close with Hinds County Judge Melvin Priester Sr. — the councilman's father — and supported Priester Jr. in his bid to succeed Lumumba as councilman of Ward 2 last year, which included hosting at least one fundraiser for Priester last April. Priester is also a graduate of the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute, which Thompson chairs.

Of course, it's also possible that Thompson is grooming Priester for an office beyond the mayor's seat, such as his own congressional seat. Thompson has served in the House since 1993 and, at age 66 (the average age of U.S. House members is 57), is probably looking around at who might eventually replace him.


tomhead1978 4 years, 6 months ago

Without disparaging Lee (because this isn't necessarily his fault), I think it's safe to say that if he had won based on high turnout in the two wards with white representatives (1 and 7) and lost in the other five, it would have been bad for Thompson's long-term prospects in the city. I think Thompson also recognized that Lumumba's canvassing team could be of immense help to him in the future.

While I strongly support Chokwe Antar, it's hard to fault anybody who endorses Melvin Priester. He's as accessible on the Council as he was before he ran, and the idea of having a mayor who's that easy to reach, and who spends as much time as Melvin does listening to the community, is really appealing. That's something he and Chokwe Antar (and, in my experience, Tony Yarber) have in common: a grassroots sensibility and a real interest in having two-way conversations with their constituents.


JLucas 4 years, 6 months ago

Seems to me that Harvey Johnson was Thompson's man up until his last term when even he got sick of how long it took HJ's administration to get almost anything done. He didn't openly campaign against HJ but he sure wasn't pounding the pavement to get him re-elected. What finally got Thompson motivated to exert his influence on the race was when he saw the "white" candidate was potentially going to win.


tomhead1978 4 years, 6 months ago

I think the way races tend to break down in this city is that we end up in the runoff with two candidates, one of whom absorbs almost all of the white support (and since the majority of whites are conservative, this generally means the candidate is perceived as "pro-business"). The other candidate becomes the progressive candidate (by choice or default) and gets Bennie's endorsement, whether we're talking about Harvey Johnson in 2009 or Chokwe Lumumba in 2013. Harvey was never "Bennie's man"; he just always ended up in a runoff against someone who was perceived as more conservative.

So, taking that fact into account, Bennie's endorsement of Chokwe last year wasn't really unusual. What is unusual is Bennie Thompson vocally endorsing one candidate within a crowded field in the first round of an election, when we have no way of knowing yet whether that candidate will make the runoff. This suggests that he has a special appreciation for Melvin Priester.


edinman 4 years, 6 months ago

If credentials count I can't think of any reason Rep. Thompson shouldn't endorse Melvin Priester. Valedictorian of his class at Murrah High School, he went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, then earned a law degree from Stanford. He is extraordinarily intelligent, hard working, a frequent supporter of the arts and cultural events, dedicated to public service, and passionate about Jackson and its people. And I certainly mean no disrespect to any other candidates by saying that. I think we are actually blessed to have several good candidates in this election. It's going to be a very spirited race to the finish line.

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