City Election Buzz | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

City Election Buzz

FORUMS AND DEBATES, OH MY: As controversy swirls about which debate and candidate forums the Democratic candidates will do—Frank Melton refused the Tougaloo College debate sponsored by the Mississippi Democratic Club last Saturday, saying one of the panelists was biased toward the mayor—all three candidates have confirmed to appear together on at least one stage this week. The Jackson Association of Neighborhoods (JAN) is hosting a forum (not a debate) in the Jackson Medical Mall Community Room, and moderated by JFP Editor Donna Ladd.

Members of JAN are preparing questions in four areas: Mr. Robert McField on neighborhood revitalization; Rev. Jimmy Garner on economic development; Ms. Maggie White on crime prevention and public safety; and Mr. Darrell Dobson on human relations. The event is open to the public; seating is first come, first served. Doors open at 6 p.m.; no campaign paraphernalia including t-shirts, signs or buttons. JAN panelists will ask each candidate every question; they will have two minutes to respond; no back-and-forth discussion will be allowed. Ladd will moderate , but will not ask questions. ...

LYING LOW?: As we went to press Tuesday, candidate Melton had confirmed that he would participate in the April 17 debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters, WJTV and The Clarion-Ledger. Mayor Harvey Johnson said he is accepting all forum and debate invitations. Whitlow said he has "no plans to participate in any mayoral debates, or forums until after May 3rd, and certainly not until the current Democractic controversy is settled." ...

HOMESTEAD-GATE: The "Democratic controversy" Whitlow was referring to was the questionsraised on April 4 at the Democratic Elections Commission over whether Melton he had told the same group on March 9 that he had definitely filed homestead exemption, while waving a piece of paper that ostensibly was the Jackson homestead form. In fact, Melton and his wife, Ellen, a Texas pediatrician who has never lived in Jackson, own homes together in both Tyler and in Jackson. Both had signed the Texas document in 1997 declaring that home as their primary residence, and Melton did not file in Jackson by the April 1 deadline—thus, the reason the challenge was raised on the next business day. The form stated that a misrepresentation on that form could bring up to $10,000 in fines or a year in jail. In Mississippi, homestead-exemption is one of the factors that contribute to whether a candidate is considered eligible to run for office, but is not the sole determinant. Melton said that not filing, and saying he had, had been an "oversight," but the gaffe still gave Johnson fuel for questioning Melton's "honesty" and "integrity" at a press conference Tuesday morning, where a large group of black ministers endorsed the mayor's candidacy. ...

YOUR BUS OR MINE? While Johnson was hanging with the ministers Tuesday morning, Melton was taking reporters and supporters to places some had never been: Jackson streets where deserted homes are crumbling. Melton called the bus tour a "reality ride." On the tour, Melton told media that he would work with the AFL-CIO, which has endorsed him, to train inner-city youth in building trades in Pearl so that they could re-build their neighborhoods—and promised lots of money as a result. "I'm going to be able to get hundreds of kids off the street and give them a job to make up to $25 to $30 an hour," he said, as reported by The Clarion-Ledger. While on the bus, he responded to the Democrats who had raised the homestead question: "I own the home, I pay city taxes and, truth is, I pay more in taxes than they make in their lives," as reported by WLBT. That night, at a fund raiser hosted by a group of prominent North Jackson Republicans, Melton told them that he was going to try to keep his foot out of his mouth. ...

V-O-T-E A FOUR-LETTER WORD? By the weekend, Melton's PR problems worsened when Clarion-Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow reported that his voting record isn't stellar—and, indeed, shows a mixture of being registered in Texas, in Madison County and in Hinds. He has been registered in Hinds since 1974; was registered in Madison from 1988 to 2003; and in Smith County, Texas, where his family lives, from 2000 to 2003. He has never voted in a Hinds County Democratic primary and in only two Hinds elections. The records show he never voted in Madison County, and did not vote in last fall's runoff between Supreme Court Justice James Graves Jr. and Samac Richardson. Melton told Stringfellow that he did not want to show bias by voting in local elections and that he had voted in Houston, Texas, instead. However, there is no record of him being registered there. The voting dust-up is adding fuel to the idea that Melton is running as a Democrat out of political convenience—and whether or not he is a Republican in disguise, which he denied in a press conference Monday. He had, however, told North Jackson women at Bravo! on March 14 that he had voted for a certain GOP president recently. "You know, there's a prominent Republican in the White House," Melton told the ladies to laughs. "I grew up with him, and I voted for him."
— Reporting by Donna Ladd & Adam Lynch

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