Generally speaking, south Jackson covers a good chunk of real estate, stretching from about Interstate 20 toward the city of Byram. Its rough-and-tumble reputation is a source of both neighborhood pride and, if you watch local TV news, sometimes, embarrassment.
It may be the most important battleground in the April 22 runoff between Chokwe A. Lumumba and Tony Yarber, the popular councilman who has represented a good-size portion of south Jackson since 2009. Lumumba grew up clear on the other side of the city, in northwest Jackson, but believes his family's history of human-rights activism and legal advocacy appeals to working-class voters in south Jackson.
Over the weekend, each candidate devoted a good amount of time to campaigning in the neighborhood. On Sunday, Yarber's campaign hosted a crawfish boil in Forest Hill Park in Ward 6. Many of the attendees were people who had known him for a long time and are most impressed by his experience on the council, which includes a stint as council president and chairman of several standing and ad hoc committees.
Even though pieces of four city wards comprise south Jackson, Yarber said residents lay the blame for all of south Jackson's challenges at his feet (though he also concedes he enjoys receiving a lot of the credit for south Jackson's successes as well).
As he campaigns in his own ward, Yarber said voters want what Jackson voters want in every election—smoother roads, less crime—but he has noticed an uptick in complaints about approximately-35-percent water rate hikes that went into effect under the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba.
"I've heard that every day I've been out here for the last week. It's crazy. At our house, we just got $380-something water bill. And my mama had a $500-something water bill not long ago," Yarber said, adding that, if he becomes mayor, he could ask the council to reconsider the rate increases if adjustments can be made in the city's budget.
"I voted for that," Yarber said of the water rate hike, "but my reservation was, why couldn't we move it incrementally? We're here now. It's something that we're going to have to look at."
Chokwe A. Lumumba, Yarber's opponent, also spent part of the weekend canvassing in south Jackson. While walking door to door in Ward 6 on Friday afternoon, Lumumba heard similar complaints about the area's infrastructure problems and asserted how his administration would fix those problems by putting Jacksonians to work.
"We have to fix our infrastructure. We've done more to do that in the last seven months by getting this 1-percent sales tax passed. We also have to put people to work at the same time while we're doing that. We are the only campaign who is saying how that is going to happen," Lumumba told one south Jackson man, talking on the man's doorstep.
One resident in particular was concerned with some of the housing conditions in the neighborhood, saying that he has asked Ward 6 Councilman Yarber several times to take care of a few dilapidated homes, but that nothing has since been done.
Yarber points out that as one member of the city council, he can personally do little to have a street resurfaced or an abandoned home torn down. Another resident told Lumumba, 31, that she had gone before city council several times in the past when other mayors were in office to talk about the conditions in Ward 6, and it did not seem like anything was being done to remedy the problems, specifically the conditions around her street.
She added that she is pleased with Yarber and was considering voting for him, attributing some of the recent improvements to the neighborhood to him. Lumumba responded that the recent improvements were not done in part by city council but by his father.
"City councilmen cannot direct people to do anything," Lumumba said, seemingly turning Yarber's sentiment against him. "So the reason why things weren't getting done in the past is because city councilmen were making suggestions, and you did not have a mayor in office who was taking the time to do that."
The candidates will discuss infrastructure and other neighborhood concerns in several public events held over the next few days. Tonight, April 14, Tougaloo College hosts a conversation with the candidates at 7 p.m. at the Bennie G. Thompson Academic and Civil Rights Research Center.
On Tuesday, April 15, a meet-and-greet with the candidates hosted by the Mississippi Minority Business Alliance will take place at Metrocenter at 6 p.m, and on Wednesday, April 16, WAPT and the Clarion-Ledger will host an hour-long debate at the Mississippi College School of Law at 7 p.m.