April 20, 2005
The sound system may not have been spiffy, but Ward 5 Democratic candidates for City Council didn't have a hard time conveying their messages at an April 11 forum at Provine High School. Hosted by the League of Women Voters, candidates had barely an hour to sort out the issues driving them to seek the council seat. Lanier High School teacher Bettye K. Dagner Cook faces former state worker Chris Gray, retired school Principal Charles Tillman, 72, substitute teacher Charles Alexander, self-employed Carl "Moses" Rankin, 47, and business owner, Kesha Evans, 30. Evans ran for a Jackson City council seat in 2001.
Candidates had the short span of one minute to belt out talking points. Arguments were complex, however, and candidates were frequently cut off in the middle of explanations.
Attracting new business to the ward was a top goal for candidates. In this endeavor, Cook emphasized the council's beautification projects.
"We have torn down more than 325 houses in Ward 5; 1,200 blocks have been cut and 149 (abandoned homes) have been boarded up. … I have a commitment to this ward, and I'll keep that commitment," she said, adding that she was pursuing efforts to clean up the Highway 80 corridor and devise a tax credit for incoming businesses.
Evans said she has worked closely with Hinds County Economic Development and also wants to focus on Hwy 80. "We want to work together and open up Highway 80 by making its appearance attractive," Evans said, adding that she faulted current council leaders for not doing all they could to pursue city improvements.
Gray said he'd had been visiting business around Highway 80 and noting an alarming amount of crime, prostitution and abandoned hotels. He said he was already in the process of contacting hotel owners about either renovation or demolition.
"There's a lot of cheap land available on Hwy 80. We want to encourage businesses to invest in it," Gray said.
Rankin said he also wanted to offer tax incentives to businesses looking to locate in the community. "Small businesses need our help in opening," Rankin said. "Also, I would work with economic development agencies to develop new opportunities and ministries, and I would work closely with the police department."
Tillman put his emphasis upon combating crime, saying that promoting a crime-free ward was the best way to attract business. "If you were a business owner, you would look for an atmosphere without crime. First, take care of crime," Tillman said, "then not only will investors come but clients will come along behind them."
Alexander called for a general polishing of the ward. "I think the area needs some serious clean-up. There are things we could do to make it look a lot better. Also, I will keep contact with corporations and try to encourage them to come—particularly mom-and-pop stores," Alexander said.
Numerous candidates took shots at the current council leadership for poor flood control. "Not yet have we seen adequate drainage and infrastructure done in Ward 5," said Gray. "The money is there, but it's apparently not being put into our community. We need to get with our mayor and see to it that we receive the money that was sent out to us where it was designated."
"Citizens should not have to call the city to come out and clean the sewers out. It shouldn't be the citizens' job to call the city. It's a city job to go out and find the problems and fix them," Alexander said.
Flaunting familiarity with the issue, Cook warned that it wasn't that simple. "First of all, there are rules and regulations. If you do not have all the easement on everybody's property, and you go in and work on it … it will be only half done. … Once you get that cooperation then you go in with bond money that has been set aside to do that. If you do not get everybody's easement to go on that property then you cannot do the work and monies that have been set aside for certain areas ... is moved elsewhere."
The Democratic forum did not include Independent Joe Louis Sanders, nor did it feature Democratic candidate Hezekiah "Heck" Watkins, who said he was likely withdrawing from the race.