The great American newscaster David Brinkley once said that a successful man is one who can build a foundation out of the bricks thrown at him.
If that holds true, and Chokwe Lumumba is successful in his new job, he should be able to build a mansion.
But what is success to Lumumba? Considering he's spent his whole life fighting for social justice, the answer shouldn't surprise anyone: expanding wealth for a larger group of people.
"I think success will mean, more than anything, economic growth and expansion and population growth," Lumumba said Friday in transit to a meeting with northeast Jackson residents. "Secondly, it has to be the right kind of growth. Success will be defined by the expansion of wealth in Jackson for a larger group of people. We can't have such a large portion of the wealth kept in the hands of so few, as is typical in most places in America. We need to expand base ownership to different people by making sure, for instance, that women's pay is equal to that of a man's for an equal day's work."
Census data seem to back up exactly what Lumumba implies. Data collected by the United States Census Bureau from 2007-2010 show that 79.4 percent of Jackson's 175,437 residents identified themselves as black, and 53.5 percent identified themselves as female.
Black people make up nearly 80 percent of the population of Jackson, but own fewer than 42 percent of its businesses. Of the 15,385 businesses reported in the census, just 41.9 percent were black-owned, and 34.5 percent were female-owned.
Nationally, blacks make up 13.1 percent of the population, but own just 7.1 percent of businesses firms. Women, at 50.8 percent of the population, own only 28.8 percent of businesses.
Further, Jackson has a median household income of $34,567, more than $4,000 lower than the state average, and 27.5 percent of Jacksonians live below the poverty level, compared to 21.6 percent in the rest of the state.
"That's a major problem for Jackson," Lumumba said. "If we continue to wallow in an increasing poverty rate, that would define failure. If we have people becoming poorer, I think that's a sign of us stumbling, faltering to some degree. If that should happen, and I don't expect it to, we would have to examine the reasons why, and it would be my responsibility as mayor to turn that around."
Lumumba's ideas about the distribution of wealth might sound like socialism to some, and he's aware of that, but he's unapologetic about his views and his plan.
In his acceptance speech following his defeat of Jonathan Lee in the Democratic primary runoffs May 21, Lumumba said it was wrong that 80 percent of the population controlled less than 20 percent of the city's wealth. He can change that, he says, by incentivizing big contractors to hire Jacksonians--on projects such as the pending deal with Westin, which plans to build a $53 million, state-of-the-art hotel downtown.
That project, which Lumumba supported from his Ward 2 city council seat, is required to give 50 percent of its sub-contracts to minority-owned businesses, and once completed, 100 percent of the unskilled workers are required to be Jackson citizens.
Then there's the $90 million Siemens infrastructure project, which features 10 local sub-contractors who have guaranteed to hire at least 65 Jacksonians after interviewing candidates at a city-funded jobs fair last Wednesday.
Politicians are falling over each other to take credit for that deal, even though it may or may not be held up in court over complaints from Siemens competitor Advanced Technology Building Solutions.
ATBS attorney Herbert Irvin, a colleague of former Jackson mayoral candidate Regina Quinn, provided a copy of a complaint to The Clarion-Ledger earlier this week. In it, he argued on behalf of ATBS owner Don Hewitt that Siemens couldn't possibly delivery the savings it promised in the contract, which is not available to the public because of a non-disclosure agreement between the company and the city.
Neither the chancery court nor the city clerk's office can confirm that the complaint has actually been filed.
Either way, once the bonds are issued and subcontracts bid out, the deal promises to have a positive economic impact on the area.
"This is perhaps the largest single public-works project in Jackson's history," outgoing Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said in a release promoting the jobs fair last week. "This jobs fair will provide opportunities for Jacksonians to be hired for these jobs, and we appreciate all the businesses for participating."
Lumumba said he hopes he can continue to work with the new version of the city council to ensure similar projects continue to benefit the people in Jackson in the future.
"I think the new council is going to be pretty effective," Lumumba said. "The makeup is very promising. I know it's one of the younger councils we've ever had, and that's promising in and of itself.
"We have three young members, and Mr. (Charles) Tillman will add some experience to the mix. Margaret Barrett(-Simon) has pledged to support us, so I feel good about it."
One early priority of the mayor-elect is organizing community trash pick-up program, to which he intends to invite members of the northeast Jackson communities who voted overwhelmingly against him in the Democratic primary runoff.
The mayor-elect knows he'll have to surround himself with the right people to get Jackson's agenda and his initiatives pushed through. He said his staffing process is already in the works, and will likely continue through the first 100 days he is in office. Potentially slowing down the process, Lumumba is determined to give every city employee who serves at the will and pleasure of the mayor's office an interview.
"I believe we'll have the transition team in place soon, and then we'll start interviews," Lumumba said.
"The reality is I haven't had a chance to talk to these 100 or so employees, and I want to give them all the dignity of a conversation. I feel like we are finally in a position where we can start to talk to them, and it's the just the right thing to do."
Making of a Mayor
Growing Up Lumumba
The Lumumba Economy