April 20, 2005
An April 14 candidate forum hosted by the Jackson Association of Neighborhoods was bereft of Democratic mayoral candidate Frank Melton. Melton was to have joined incumbent Harvey Johnson Jr., and challenger Annell Smith at the forum in the Jackson Medical Mall's commnity room, but Johnson had arranged for business owner and friend James Covington to stand in from 6:30 p.m. until Johnson could arrive at 7 p.m. Melton walked out minutes after his own arrival at about 6:40 p.m., however, saying he did not want to be near Johnson's temporary stand-in.
"Do they really expect me to sit next to that convicted felon?" Melton demanded on his way out of the room. Covington told the JFP he was convicted of cocaine possession in 1985, but the conviction was expunged.
"He used me to hurt the mayor, because that's the only way he knows he can win," Covington said. "Frank would make a terrible mistake attacking me because my credibility in this city is beyond reproach ... I have four businesses in this city. Frank, as far as I'm concerned, hasn't invested a dime."
Melton campaign worker Bob Hickingbottom said Covington was "nothing but a convicted felon."
The Melton campaign eventually asked Hinds County Board of Supervisors Vice President Douglas Anderson in to sit in just minutes before Johnson arrived, but JAN told Anderson that he could not stand in at that late point, after all the commotion.
Anderson said he was vexed at the decision. "If the mayor could have a representative here to speak, then I can't understand why I can not speak for Melton. … Melton did come, but he wasn't going to sit up there and debate a non-candidate." The event was not a "debate," as there was no back-and-forth allowed between candidates.
Hill said the association had also known in advance that Johnson would be attending late, and they had told Melton's campaign.
"We did everything we could to accommodate (Melton)," Hill said. "Some members of the board talked with him five or six times a day. I talked with his scheduler on Monday. We haven't done anything to try to slight him."
JAN President Darrell Dobson told the attendees that Melton's behavior was insulting. "At first he didn't want to come on because (JFP Editor) Donna (Ladd) was the moderator. We let him know that Donna wasn't asking any questions. Then there were calls back and forth, back and forth, acting like teenagers. If that was any indication (of his mayoral potential), we're in trouble."
"This is a personal statement from me that has nothing to do with this board but this board has been disrespected tonight. These candidates have been disrespected tonight, you citizens have been disrespected tonight," Dobson said.