Tony Yarber 48 Hour Report
JACKSON With two young candidates who are relatively unknown to big parts of Jackson, the airwaves were expected to be a major battleground in the capital city's mayor's race.
That is proving especially true as the race goes down to the wire.
An examination of campaign-finance reports shows just how important media advertising has been to both the campaigns of Chokwe A. Lumumba and Ward 6 Councilman Tony Yarber, who square off April 22 for the mayor's job.
Each man drew 31 percent of the vote in the April 8 special election. Wooing supporters of the 11 men and women who did not make into the runoff is an important key to victory on Tuesday.
Yarber—who has represented South Jackson on the city council since 2009, but was less known in other parts of Jackson when he announced that he would run for mayor—has spent $60,475.10 on television, radio, billboard and print advertising. That sum represents more than 38 percent of the more than $156,719 in payouts Yarber's campaign fundraising committee paid out through April 15, records show.
Lumumba spent about 46.4 percent of his total campaign expenditures through April 15 on advertising. All together, Lumumba, whose campaign committee outraised Yarber's, spent $39,429.10 of the $84,817 total expenditures.
In the final days of the election, outside groups are also jumping into the fray. The Jackson Free Press recently reported on the mysterious ENI PAC, which is providing scant information on "consultants" that received contributions.
Then, on Saturday, William Dilday told the Jackson Free Press that he is the middleman who facilitated placement of a controversial anti-Tony Yarber mayoral campaign ad that started running on local television stations yesterday—without the knowledge of Yarber's opponent, Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
Dilday, a long-time Jackson television executive, is now owner of Kerimax Communications LLC. He told the Jackson Free Press Saturday that attorney Precious Martin came to him with the campaign ad on behalf of a political PAC called Citizens for Decency, which Dilday said is chaired by political operative Greg Brand.
The ad contains a video Yarber had previously posted online of him looking in a mirror and imitating "the selfies chicks take when they in the club and they feeling themsel(ves) in the bathroom—ducklips!" He gestures to imitate the women in clubs, including holding his crotch. That and other "Man Tips" videos disappeared from YouTube earlier in the mayoral campaign.
"I do ministry for people ages 2 to 92," Yarber told WAPT Friday when shown the ad. The video, he said, has "helped tons of young ladies, as it deals with self-worth." He said people "take the way we do ministry and try to spin it for political gain."
Yarber, though campaign manager Aaron Banks, declined an interview to discuss the videos.
But supporters passed around a Yarber statement Saturday emphasizing that the selfie video was shown to young women and girls as part of a ministry effort. "It seems to me that the methods in which we do ministry has garnered the attention of some and (are) being ridiculed," the statement said. "Let me be clear: This video is not something that I am embarrassed or ashamed of. Apologizing for this video would be diminishing the deliverance that took place in the lives of countless young adults and I do not apologize for being a servant to people."
The councilman, pastor and former elementary-school principal said in the statement that the video is one of a series distributed through social media designed to "assist women in understanding their self-worth and self-image."
Not all of the videos were geared to young women, however. Some were "Man Tips" videos targeted to men. In one, Yarber is speaking directly to the camera, telling men he wants to talk to them about "what all of us spend 80 percent of our time plotting about. ... It's called sex." He says men's appetite for sex often goes beyond "what women understand about us." He urges men to cultivate the "ultimate tease" to keep women interested sexually.
Reached by phone, Greg Brand flatly denied any involvement either with Citizens for Decency or the video. "I have no idea whatsoever why Mr. Dilday would say that. ... No, I don't work with Precious. I haven't seen Precious in years," Brand said.
Brand added that he supported Regina Quinn in last year's mayoral election and voted for a different candidate earlier this month but plans to vote for Lumumba in next week's runoff. Brand, whose name has been associated with negative campaigning in the past, said that he told journalist Bill Minor one time, "I'll be dead and buried, and they'll still throw my name around."
Reached a second time, Dilday seemed puzzled by Brand's denial and reiterated what he said in the first interview Saturday: that he dealt directly with attorney Precious Martin, not Brand, but was told it was "Greg Brand's group" behind the ads. "I was hired to buy time for the company that produced the ad," Dilday said in the first Saturday interview with the Jackson Free Press. "I placed it on all four TV stations (WLBT, WAPT, WJTV and WBBD/FOX) and on Comcast." He confirmed that the TV ad was tagged "Paid for by Citizens for Decency."
A phone message left at Martin's office Saturday and again today for comment has not yet been returned. Reached again today, Dilday said he had no additional information about Citizens for Decency, or a series of robocalls that Jacksonians received over the weekend pointing them to a reallytony.com website displaying the videos, information about Marshall Elementary School and a quote from the Jackson Free Press. The group, which registered the URL using a masked identity, did not ask for permission from this newspaper to include that quote.
Dilday said posts on Facebook indicating that he was behind the ads because he has had disagreements with businessman and developer Socrates Garrett are patently false. "I was functioning as a buying service. I didn't approve anything," Dilday said. "Either I take the job, or I don't take the job."
He added: "I don't know how Socrates got into the picture. I thought Tony Yarber was running against Chokwe Lumumba." Until recently, Garrett was the chairman of the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce. Among other projects, Garrett is locked into a legal dispute with his former partner in Farish Street and Metrocenter development, David Watkins, and owns the Mississippi Link newspaper. He has been criticized for supporting Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, in the past, and was reportedly involved in a fist-brawl with Dilday at the bar of the Wathall Hotel over a 2010 Jackson Free Press article that reported his support of Barbour. Garrett is Yarber's top donor, giving at least $30,000 to his campaign this cycle.
Dilday denied Saturday that his involvement was about anything but doing business with the Citizens for Decency group.
When asked if Chokwe A. Lumumba had knowledge of what is being called an "attack ad," Dilday answered emphatically: "I know he didn't have knowledge of it. (The PAC's) people said, 'He has no knowledge of what we're doing.'" Dilday emphasized that he dealt directly with Martin about the ad, and not Brand or anyone else.
The JFP has located no PAC contribution or registration reports for Citizens for Decency. There is, however, a Citizens for Decency Inc. in good standing with the secretary of state's office since 1986, but no officers or other documents are included. It is unclear, so far, whether this is the same organization.
Jackson City Clerk Brenda Pree confirmed today that her office has gotten no reports or paperwork from Citizens for Decency. "That group did not register with my office. They would have had to have filed their paperwork with the Secretary of State's office," she wrote in email.
Secretary of State spokeswoman Pamela Weaver had a similar response in email: "If Citizens for Decency is participating on the municipal level, they would file with the Municipal Clerk. Citizens for Decency has not filed with our Agency."
Dilday said Saturday that an attorney for Yarber had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Channel 12 saying that the video was copyrighted and should not be used and that he understands that the letter was sent to Martin. He called back today, after saying he had nothing new to add, to say that the Yarber campaign is now sending a cease-and-desist letter to radio stations, claiming copyright violation.
"It does make me wonder," Dilday said, "If (Yarber) says it's part of his ministry, and he's proud of it, why is he trying to suppress it?"
Didlay did not have a copy of the letters, he said.
Candidate Lumumba posted on his Facebook page Saturday: "I understand a cease and desist letter has already been provided to all media outlets. I urge all media outlets to honor that request and cease all viewing of this advertisement. This ad and ads like it are not only deplorable and disrespectful, but they cause division and dissension among voters."
But, Dilday said, he is not clear on why the ad should not be run with scenes from the Yarber video, which was public until recently. "My question is: If you put on a candidate in his own words, is that an attack ad?"
Both candidates seem concerned over the weekend about what supporters are doing on their behalf, even though both of them pledged in front of City Hall recently to avoid negative campaigning. "My word is bond!," Yarber wrote on Facebook Saturday. "NO negative campaigning. If you're #teamyarber, I need you to adhere to that stance. I appreciate your defense of the vision. I urge you to continue to defend it. But, I demand that you do so with class!"
Lumumba told WAPT Saturday that he had nothing to do with the ad. "It's clear that my camp had nothing to do with it. We've made a commitment that we weren't going to do any negative campaigning ..." he said. "We think that we've made our case, and we don't think there's any need for any negative campaigning. ... We don't think the people of Jackson appreciate it."
Lumumba emphasized, though, that there is a difference between personal attack ads and raising issue-based concerns about his opponent, such as when the candidates asked each other questions about their records in debates. "[T]here have been questions that I've requested of Mr. Yarber in those debates that have all spoken to the issues. Things about leadership, things about his ability to lead, things about his past leadership, and I thought those were fair game, fair questions to ask, and that's why I talked about them," he said.
In Thursday night's debate, for instance, Yarber backed Lumumba into a corner over his apparent lack of knowledge of New Market Tax Credits; Lumumba could not explain what they were and did not know they have been used recently in Jackson, such as with the King Edward redevelopment.
Lumumba challenged Yarber on not filing legally required annual financial disclosure reports to the state Ethics Commission for several years, and asked him about statements he had made in his "Man Tips" book about having to defer to his wife on financial matters.
On Saturday, in the WAPT interview, Lumumba drew a contrast between those kinds of questions and the Citizens for Decency ad that uses video that has been circulating in social media and email boxes for weeks, including by campaigns of candidates who did not make it into the runoff. "Many of the images used in the ad, the attack ad we saw today, are things that were shown to me a long time ago as many of the other candidates. I made a conscious decision not to use it in spite of the negative campaigning that has been displayed against me. I did not do that," Lumumba said.
Lumumba also challenged his opponent for "playing the victim," considering that he had been on the receiving end of being called "all kinds of names and questioning my Christianity." Last week, the Lumumba campaign posted on Instagram about Yarber supporters, including pastors, trying to paint him as a Muslim—which political opponents of his father did last year as well.
In last year's campaign, as well, the campaigns disavowed knowledge of smear efforts, including flyers left on cars in church parking lots.
A Lumumba supporter today emailed screenshots of a text message sent in bulk yesterday in support of Yarber. "The consortium of wealthy lawyers endorsing the other candidate appear, in my opinion, to be lying in wait to divide our city up like a pie if their guy gets elected! Do you REALLY want these people controlling the man who controls the purse strings to our city. If you love Jackson, vote Yarber! If you don't live in Jackson, forward this to someone who does."
The man who answered a call to the number on the text identified himself as Dennis Bonds, who said he is a musician and computer-repair technician. He confirmed that he has known Yarber for a long time. "From the moment he announced, he has my support," Bonds said. He emphasized that he did not sent the bulk text out at the behest of the candidate. "I'm not paid to represent him," Bonds said.
Bonds said he had seen a television ad in which Hinds County Supervisor Kenneth Stokes and Jackson attorneys Isaac Byrd and Dennis Sweet "and maybe Precious Martin" were endorsing Lumumba. He said they looked like they want to "divide up our city like a pie," he said, adding that "I probably shouldn't have sent the text." He added that all of Yarber's supporters are "just regular folk," while Lumumba has much out-of-state support. (Filed reports show both candidates have out-of-state donors.)
Bonds also said that the video used in the "duck lips" ad was a joke video that the Citizens for Decency had taken from Facebook and made into an ad. In fact, Yarber said it was a video used in a girls' ministry.
Like Lumumba, Yarber vowed in his statement Saturday to oppose "negative" campaigning and called on his supporters to do the same. "Finally, great citizens of Jackson," he wrote, "I do apologize that you have been subjected, once again, to negative politics. We have issues in this city that we need to address, and you need a leader who can address them on next Wednesday. I am ready to work for you from day one. That is the type of leadership you deserve. To that end, the Yarber campaign is still committed to (our) vow to run a CLEAN campaign. See you at the finish line."
UPDATE: The JFP photographed the Citizens for Decency documents in WLBT's public file this afternoon. They list Greg Brand as an officer of the PAC, as Dilday reported to us. Reached again by telephone, Brand denied being involved with the group or the ad for the third time since Saturday. "Whoever did is trying to get me up," Brand said.
Brand said he has not been near the station or talked to anyone about the PAC or the ad, and that he plans to call WLBT tomorrow to address it. "Absolutely, I have not bought anything (for the group). I think this is bullshit. B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T," he said.
Haley Ferretti and R.L. Nave contributed reporting.
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