Houston, We Have A Problem | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Houston, We Have A Problem

As soon as the Best of Jackson 2005 issue was put to bed, the JFP turned our attention to the upcoming city elections. My personal mayoral bias was that Harvey Johnson Jr. had done a pretty good job as mayor, certainly in the last four years; our readers thought so, too. They had voted him Best Elected Official and Most Under-Appreciated Jacksonian in the Best of Jackson awards—largely, I suspect because his long-term visions had started coming to fruition in the last couple years, and because he has embraced the emerging diverse, determined creative class here. It didn't hurt any that crime was falling and private investment was returning to Jackson.

Therefore, Frank Melton had the burden of proof.

Melton had to show that he could do a better job than Johnson. I was a bit concerned about his violation of the Constitution a time or two, but I had heard inspiring things about him from thinking people, black and white, whose opinions I valued. And Melton came in second for Most Under-Appreciated Jacksonian and, the year before, our readers had voted him Best Community Activist.

Both men are African American, both have worked hard for the community, both care about young people. I figured we were in for an issues-oriented campaign in which we could discover which man would better lead this emerging powerhouse of a city. I didn't completely believe the pundits who predicted (gleefully, I might add) that it was going to be an "ugly" campaign. I knew that the operatives among them would likely try some unethical crap—but I figured these Class A candidates would rein them in. I was wrong.

I didn't know that then, though. I approached this campaign for mayor as I approach any big story. I try to go in first, look around, assess the situation, gather information, figure out what needs to be plumbed in more depth. So, early in February, I started calling Melton's campaign for a sit-down interview. (I did one with Harvey Johnson a little over a year ago; it's linked to jacksonfreepress.com.)

I figured he would welcome the chance to open up and talk about matters of concern to Jacksonians—from poverty to education to development to crime prevention. I told his new campaign press woman Carolyn Redd (his sister-in-law from Texas) that I would put him on the cover and run the interview as a question-and-answer. It would be edited for space inside, but I would run the whole shebang on our Web site, giving him an unedited forum. People could get to know him quickly and get past simplistic sound bites.

But within about a week, Redd had cancelled sit-down interviews between me and the candidate at least three times—one time when I called an hour before to confirm.

This began a cat-and-mouse game between the JFP and Frank Melton that has only gotten uglier and more confusing to me in the ensuing weeks. I finally got to talk with Melton because I decided to follow up on an invitation that had been e-mailed to me by someone invited to Bravo! to hear him speak to a group of women on March 14. Redd was at the door, and filled out my nametag. She then stood near me as I took notes throughout Melton's talk to the ladies, in which he said a number of surprising things—that he's running as a Democrat so he can win in a majority-black city, that he opposes the Convention Center and would put it "between Two Lakes," that he would pay for his ideas for the city with federal grants, that he voted for President Bush, that nearly 80 percent of whites and blacks support him, and many other zingers (story also on our Web site). He said publicly for the first time that he would fire Police Chief Robert Moore.

After the event, I asked Melton some questions directly and had a nice chat. My reporter Adam helped me get responses to allegations he made, and then I wrote a story about it. And we started a Truth Watch Web site to check the facts coming out of all sides.

And that's when the red clay really hit the fan. I'll spare you all the gory details, but because the JFP decided to really cover this election, we have been treated like pond scum by both the Melton campaign and his supporters, especially on talk radio and in the right-wing blog world. We work for the mayor, we're on Harvey's payroll, we're unethical, we're this, we're that, they say. One of his campaign folks, Bob Hickingbottom, has gone on talk radio numerous times to discredit my name and my motives because they don't like that I dared to report what Melton said publicly. Campaign manager Robert Johnson (the former police chief) embarrassed Adam in public at a Highway 80 rally, saying he worked for the mayor, and pulled Melton away in the middle of an interview.

Meantime, we have also pursued the mayor's campaign diligently, and have called Melton constantly for responses, despite their smear campaign against the Jackson Free Press. We've tried to be professional even while under attack ourselves.

This came to an ugly head last week. I was asked by the Jackson Association of Neighborhoods to moderate their candidate forum at the Medical Mall. I would ask no questions, and it wasn't a debate. I was to enforce the clock, basically. Two days before the event, the Melton folks started complaining about me as a reason that he didn't want to participate. Then Melton himself called me at 4 p.m. the day of the event to say he was, indeed, participating after telling JAN two hours before he wasn't. First, though, I asked him if we could finally sit down and talk.

His response: "You've kind of taken a tone of trying to divide this community." How? I asked him. Because I printed that he said he wasn't really a Democrat, he said, adding, "I said I don't like either party." I told him that I had printed that part, too. "Well, I don't read any of that, anyway." My response? "Mr. Melton, with all due respect, if your campaign is going to slander my reputation on your behalf, shouldn't you read what I've written? Is that fair to me and my paper?"

Then, he said: "I have no animosity toward you. I agree with you. The problem is that we have some middle people kind of keeping us apart. I understand, you understand. It's unfair to you, unfair to me. People are doing things I don't know about."

That night, when he walked into the forum room—Hickingbottom was already there lodging whatever complaint he could think of—Melton was flanked by angry supporters looking like they came to pick a fight. He walked up to the table; I tried to shake his hand. He wouldn't look at me as he limply pressed my hand. Minutes later, he walked out, saying that he could not "sit next to a convicted felon" (James Covington who was sitting in for Johnson until he got there). Melton supporters then stood in the hall and tried to shout down the forum, and then they put out releases saying they were being "set up," although Melton knew the mayor was sending a stand-in for the start of the forum.

We went on without him, with the candidates answering questions about crime, neighborhoods, economic development and human relations. Meantime, we still know few specifics about what Melton actually plans to do as mayor, other than some amorphous pledge to "fight crime" and use union money to employ young people to rebuild houses (maybe a great idea), He, in fact, is dividing the city by attacking vital downtown efforts that will bring money back into the city—that can be used to help rebuild inner-city neighborhoods. He doesn't seem to notice that a lot of Jacksonians of various ages and races—including our core readership—are sick of the negativity, the sensationalist media coverage and politicians trying to tear down everything we're working so hard to build.

I am disappointed in the Melton that I've been allowed to know. I'm aware of his folk-hero past, but today's candidate has, to date, shown no "leadership" skills whatsoever. He cannot control the worst political campaign I've ever seen, and seems to be surrounded by loose cannons who are terrified for him to open his mouth and, reportedly, cannot even get along with each other. This does not indicate that he can run a city, except perhaps into the ground or into expensive legal trouble. Neither does the fact that he allowed a silly sideshow to show immense disrespect for a group of hard-working neighborhood association people who form the core voting constituency of this city: the swing voters he needs to add to his core white Republican North Jackson base.

I wish I'd had a chance to get to know the old Frank Melton better. As it is, he has two weeks to step up and prove he can lead this city and his staff. He needs to get started.

Read a detailed account of the Melton walk-out at the JAN forum.

Previous Comments

ID
69902
Comment

hahahahhahahahahahaahahahah Donna Ladd - You'v finally seen the light!! you alllright with me girlie...whooohooo! You've finally seen what I've been seeing about Frank since he "moved" to Jackson. This guy is not worthy of runnig this city. I've been telling people about this (insert adhominem attack) for years. He's a (insert adhominem attack) and a (insert adhominem attack) (insert adhominem attack) (insert adhominem attack) and I wish he would move back to Houston and LEAVE JACKSON ALONE!!!

Author
Black Man
Date
2005-04-21T07:00:52-06:00
ID
69903
Comment

[expletive deleted]?

Author
GDIModerate
Date
2005-04-21T07:11:03-06:00
ID
69904
Comment

Yeah, I hope you get to meet the Frank I know, too. The Frank I know is a servant leader and his passion and commitment to Jackson is real. The Frank I know understands how to manage extremely large budgets; understands vision - identifies goals and sets about actions that reflect success; surrounds himself with extremely talented individuals (even some I may have disagreed with, but in the larger picture were most capable of the challenges facing them). The Frank I know admits mistakes, listens, credits the individual(s) who bring about postive change, and is motivating. The Frank I know is different from the Frank that you have been allowed to know. I hope that changes.

Author
JenniferGriffin
Date
2005-04-21T09:36:34-06:00
ID
69905
Comment

[quote]ìI have no animosity toward you. I agree with you. The problem is that we have some middle people kind of keeping us apart. I understand, you understand. Itís unfair to you, unfair to me. People are doing things I donít know about.î -Melton[/quote] Now that's leadership!

Author
kaust
Date
2005-04-21T09:40:38-06:00
ID
69906
Comment

JFP, I wish that Frank had shown up to this mayoral campaign. That one has been nowhere in site during this campaign. I find it sad more than anything.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-21T10:17:42-06:00
ID
69907
Comment

And, for the record, if he hurries, I will still sit down and give him a fair and open forum as I've been offering for two months now. If he wants to speak directly to people throughout the city of Jackson, and answer their questions and concerns, this is his chance. I'm sure his sister-in-law will not let him, though. She seems to control his every move. He's not a football star; he's a candidate for mayor of a capitol city. If he's not going to give access to the media during the campaign, you think he's going to talk to us, and thus the people, once he's in office? By the way, does anyone know if Robert Johnson is still with the campaign? He had been campaign manager, and if you noticed in the debate, Melton acted like he didn't know who Johnson was talking about when he said he had fired Melton's campaign manager. We called the campaign yesterday, and they said Redd is the campaign manager. When we asked what Johnson's position is now, they said we'd have to talk to Redd. She hasn't called back to my knowledge, yet. I had heard a rumor last week that Johnson had quit the campaign, but it was just a rumor, and we all know how many of those are floating around. (My advice: Don't believe a SINGLE RUMOR until you see the evidence.) Any actual info on this? I'll find Johnson's number and call him, although he took my head off last time I did that when I called to ask him when the polls were taken that Melton quoted in North Jacksonóthat 80 percent of whites and 77 percent of blacks supported him; therefore, "it's over!"

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-21T11:05:16-06:00
ID
69908
Comment

Another oddity: Photographer Jaro Vacek was at a hip-hop forum that Melton spoke to the other night taking pictures. No one else was there from the Free Press. In the middle of Melton's remarks to the audience, he saw Jaro taking his picture and abruptly to him on the microphone: "You can take all the pictures you want to take and you can put them wherever you wana put them and I ain' gona curse tonight, okay. You can put them wherever you wana put them son!" Then he went on with his remarks. Jaro is downright befuddled over what this meant. The only event where he has covered Melton before that was last Thursday's forum. He was there taking pictures, but Melton wasn't there long enough to even notice him, I would think. And, we are clueless what the "curse" comment was about, and what it had to do with Jaro taking pictures. It's not like he could capture him cursing on film.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-21T11:16:09-06:00
ID
69909
Comment

I honestly don't see how Melton's ATTITUDE can help UNIFY this city's residents much less Jackson with the rest of the Metro... I'm losing all respect for him and many of the other NJAWM.

Author
kaust
Date
2005-04-21T11:20:26-06:00
ID
69910
Comment

I prefer the N-JAM Club, Knol. As in "North Jackson Angry Men's Club." It's catchier. And there's no need to limit membership due to race. They stopped doing that years ago, you know. All are welcome, as long as they bash the city's progress along the way and scare people out of Jackson before we can make healthy progress toward building a city where ALL are welcome at the table, including at the head of it. Then the angry emigrants can rush back in and pick up the proverbial pieces.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-21T11:23:44-06:00
ID
69911
Comment

N-JAM... heh! Sounds like a radio station. Ugggh. I shouldn't be giving them ideas. ;-)

Author
kaust
Date
2005-04-21T11:25:32-06:00
ID
69912
Comment

They already have one, remember? Although Kim Wade's throwing them a curve ball these days with his Melton criticisms.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-21T11:26:44-06:00
ID
69913
Comment

Yeah, I hope you get to meet the Frank I know, too. The Frank I know is a servant leader and his passion and commitment to Jackson is real. The Frank I know understands how to manage extremely large budgets; understands vision - identifies goals and sets about actions that reflect success; surrounds himself with extremely talented individuals (even some I may have disagreed with, but in the larger picture were most capable of the challenges facing them). The Frank I know admits mistakes, listens, credits the individual(s) who bring about postive change, and is motivating. The Frank I know is different from the Frank that you have been allowed to know. I hope that changes. LOL

Author
Black Man
Date
2005-04-21T13:41:36-06:00
ID
69914
Comment

"Both men are African American, both have worked hard for the community, both care about young people." Ladd I am really doubting this statement tonight. Melton had better things to do than go to JSU for their Student Forum. He had better things to do than go to Tougaloo, too. No student forum for Saturday. What's up with Melton's "care for young people" or are college students too old?

Author
ChrisCavanaugh
Date
2005-04-21T20:10:01-06:00

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