Three Jacksonians joined the stage for last night’s mayoral debate—long-time resident and sole Republican candidate Ponto Downing, current Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and former firefighter Ken Wilson. The three candidates squared off answering questions from Dr. D’Andra Orey, Professor of Political Science at Jackson State University, and Donna Ladd, the editor and co-founder of this paper.
The debate, organized by Women for Progress, initially focused around how each candidate would fix Jackson’s infrastructure amid a three-week-long and ongoing water crisis. Lumumba pointed to the capital city as a revenue source for the State of Mississippi as evidence that it should, in turn, help improve city infrastructure.
“The fact that resources are stripped from the city of Jackson, historically the city of Jackson is the highest contributor to state revenue,” he said. “The fact that we don't get payment in lieu of taxes even though a large sum of the buildings downtown are state facilities, even though if there was a fire in the state building, they would expect the City of Jackson to put it out.”
Lumumba mentioned penning a letter to the governor asking for $47 million, in which he asks Gov. Tate Reeves for “emergency funding from the State and federal government to make the capital improvements necessary for the efficient operation of Jackson’s water treatment plants and distribution network.”
Wilson responded with his plan to create a “master plan.”
“We will pursue all options, a few such as the Stafford Act, which is for disaster relief and emergency assistance,” Wilson said.
Calling himself a “Tate Reeves Republican,” Downing said that the requested $47 million is a “drop in the bucket”.
“That's not going to fix it,” Downing said. “I can get $470 million, real simple way to do that— sell the airport. Simple, be nice, comply with Tate Reeves who is the governor,” he said.
Lumumba recounted his own experience with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann in discussing the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport in which the leader of the Senate offered what he considered a paltry sum in exchange for the City of Jackson agreeing to allow the State of Mississippi continue its planned takeover of the state’s largest airport, which white Republican leaders passed in in 2016.
“I sat down with the lieutenant governor to talk about Jackson's infrastructure problem,” Lumumba said. “We had a conversation that lasted for about an hour and a half, and he asked everyone to leave the room only to say mayor, I need you to give me my airport and I look at it for about $30 million. So not only am I supposed to be dumb, I'm supposed to be cheap, right?”
The takeover drew outrage in 2016 with white lawmakers, including some with economic interests near the airport, set on what many critics called an attempt to “steal” the revenue-generating operation from a majority-Black capital city.
When Dr. Orey asked Lumumba whether his administration planned implicit-bias training or any other training for the city’s police force to prevent Black-on-Black police brutality and multiple deaths at police hands since 2016, Lumumba responded “what we have is a public safety task force that is working not only to deal with issues within our general orders. But also looking to produce a citizen review board. We want to be able to offer that so our citizens can have some opportunity,” he said.
“I have had opportunity, and I've had the necessary stance to terminate some people, or the police chief has, and it has come to my desk after he's chosen to do so. And that is because while I'm not against police, I am against police brutality, and I am against police misconduct.”
Lumumba did not directly address the training posed in the question, but instead responded with civil programs meant to strengthen community ties and prevent violence among residents, such as credible messengers such as the Strong Arms of JXN.
Wilson spoke of the need to bring different parts of the community together to prevent crime.
“I think one of the best things you can do is to implement community policing,” Wilson said.
“We need neighborhood associations at the table, we need Jackson public schools at the table, it needs to be a dialogue on how we move forward.”
The Jackson mayoral primary is on Tuesday, April 6, and the general election is on Thursday, May 6.
Watch the full mayoral debate here.
Email Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected].