UPDATE: The following article was originally printed in Volume 19, Issue 14, of the Jackson Free Press, which released on March 31. Additions have been included in the online version to provide more details surrounding the candidates.
Since 1985, the City of Jackson has been governed in part by a seven-member city council, each representing the seven wards, or sections, of the city.
This year, election officials will hold city council primary elections for each party on April 6, which will decide who represents their respective parties for each ward in the general election. If no single candidate receives a simple majority for each ward during the primary, a runoff election will be held on April 27.
Independent and Libertarian candidates will not be in the primary races, but will instead face Democrat and Republican candidates in the general election. The general election for both mayor and city council is set for June 8.
This year’s primary election ballot will have 20 candidates, spread across the seven wards of the city. Not all wards are contested, however. Republican Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote is running as the uncontested incumbent for ward 1. Foote has repeatedly called for tougher action on crime, noting the city’s high murder rate for 2020.
“The crime epidemic is my first, second, and third issue on my campaign,” Foote said. “Jackson’s got a lot of good things going for it, but if people don't feel safe, then we can't take advantage of the other things we've got going for it.”
Democrat Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee is running uncontested after winning a special election last October to replace previous Democrat Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. Lee had a four-pronged campaign. She campaigned against city crime while promoting infrastructure, economic development and beautification
Incumbent Democrat Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth I. Stokes is running again this year for what would be his seventh total term in the city council, with some gaps. Crime and infrastructure are on the top of Stokes' list of priorities. "We've got to do something to stop all these killings," Stokes said in a January press briefing.
The veteran Councilman faces competition from two candidates in the primary election, Gwen Ward Chapman and E. Sirena Wilson.
Chapman previously ran on a campaign promoting hemp production in the state. Chapman plans not only a hemp farm for economic development, but also a healing farm to bring arts, music, and drama to her community. Chapman’s campaign is focused on community growth and revitalizing Ward 3. “I just love life and people,” she said.”
“The area consists mostly of learned helplessness and hopelessness,” Chapman said. “We’re going to give them hope that there's something else that lies ahead without having to depend on (the) government for anything. That's basically what I would like to do is just contribute toward ending this learned helplessness and hopelessness cycle.
Wilson is campaigning on a platform of fighting blight and crime by “focusing on community strengths,” she said in a statement given to the Jackson Free Press.
“We have to change the mindset of our residents and help them to help themselves. We have to elect leaders who are putting the community needs first. We need to focus on what we have to offer, build on that and showcase those small wins in our community. This will allow others to see what we are doing and we can seek out and approach sources with wealth about investing in our community. We have to invest in ourselves before we expect others to invest in us.”
The winner here will face Independent candidate Patricia Williams in the general election.
Incumbent Democractic Ward 4 Councilman De’Keither Stamps is not seeking re-election to the city council after winning the special election run-off race for District 66 of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Rep. Stamps’ departure means an open race for the ward.
In an interview on radio station WRBJ, Democratic candidate Larry Maurice Wilson spoke of his reasoning behind running. “The platform that I’m currently on as an advisor, as a coach, as a leader in my church, as a leader in the community, I’ve been helping folks already. So as an advisor I help folks manage their investments, manage their retirement funds,” he said. “Managing other folks money definitely gives me an edge I would say.”
In a statement to WJTV, Democratic candidate and Democratic Party Field Leader Jacqueline R. Amos gave a statement detailing her candidacy.
“Watching the suffering and fear all around us over the past ten months has reminded me that every person who has something to give back to help improve the lives of our fellow citizens
and communities has an obligation to serve,” Amos said. “Today I am honored to qualify as a candidate for City Council in Jackson’s Fourth Ward. I am running because I have always put people above politics, and that is what we need now more than ever. I look forward to hearing about the hopes, fears, and dreams of my fellow Jacksonians in the Fourth Ward in the weeks and months ahead. Jackson is my home and I will serve this city with all that I have to give.
Democratic candidate Brian C. Grizzell, who’s previous work includes serving as Planning and Rezoning Commissioner, gave a statement to WJTV detailing his candidacy.
“I am extremely excited to announce my candidacy for City Councilman, Ward 4,” Grizzel said. “We must focus on pressing issues facing the Citizens of Ward 4. Strong leadership is critical to move Ward 4 forward during these uncertain times. I will represent the Citizens of Ward 4 with the same professionalism, tenacity, advocacy, and trust that characterized my work as a Planning and Rezoning Commissioner, representing Ward 4, educator, businessman, and Civil Service Commissioner for the City of Jackson.”
Karen Gayle Porter’s campaign priorities consist of housing, economic development and water repairs.
“We have to start with a community mindset as far as from family to community, to neighborhood, to the ward, and then the wards working together,” Porter said. “The thing that we will work on first of all, is to make sure that each neighborhood has its priority list.
Porter plans a call and email list for any concerned citizens to discuss priorities for their particular neighborhood.
McKay “Pleshette” Smith’s platform prioritizes public safety, beautification, infrastructure, and education.
“The reason why I'm running for city council is because those decisions that are made at city hall, they impact our community, our families, our friends, and especially the businesses that we own here in the city and the future of our businesses,” Smith said. “Being a business owner in the ward, that is very important to me as well as me being the homeowner in the ward.”
“I'm ready to lead through collaboration and community service environment,” Smith said.
Other candidates include Eddie "Fireman" James and Malcom Dwight May.
Incumbent Democratic Ward 5 Councilman Charles H. Tillman seeks to retain his seat this year against multiple Democratic opponents in the primary election. Tillman listed education first and foremost as his priority should he retain his seat, with economic development and public safety as secondary priorities.
“Being a former educator and knowing how important education is and how powerful knowledge is, my first priority is education,” Tillman said. “Continuing to advocate for a better school system for our young people, and young people become tomorrow's adults of society so we need a better educated community.”
Democratic candidate Vernon Hartley is running on a campaign of transparency and action. In addition to “transparency and accountability,” Hartley lists his priorities as consisting of “abandoned properties, code enforcement, crime and policing, tires, trash and open dumping, education and youth programs,” he said.
“We are moving forward together, being that there's going to be action,” Hartley said. “We need to have action and we need to get off zero in West Jackson. There's too much potential. We need to start moving. We need to bring the tax dollars into West Jackson because West Jackson’s been passed over and I believe we've been underrepresented. Forward meaning that we have a simple plan. That we get buy in from everyone from age 5 to 95. We have complete transparency. We provide them with an abundance of information on a daily basis through phone calls, through websites, through newsletters, wherever the people are they need to understand what’s going on with their tax-dollars.”
“I have experience as a statewide coordinator for the Democratic Party. I have experience working with agencies. I led 27 different agencies … to protect the Pearl River. I have 20 years of state work, six years of managing solid waste collection in the entire city of Jackson.
“I know city budgets, processes, I know personnel processes. I know how to write contracts because I did it. I paid half a million dollars a month as solid waste manager to our contractor. I know how to get them to do what they're supposed to do, but we need to start, and we need to start now.”
Democractic candidate Rickey Jones says his first priority would be “tackling the water issue. That's top of the mind for everyone,” he said. “The next priority is definitely crime. How do we work with the chief to get this under control and find out ways to increase salaries as well as hire additional staff, not only for police but also for first responders?”
Further on Jones’ list are economic development and infrastructure. “We definitely need to work together in Ward 5, but also across the city, to attract and retain the businesses here in the city,” he said.
“I am born and raised in this ward, Ward 5, born and raised in the City of Jackson”, Jones said. “I feel that I have the interest of the people at heart and this ward has been great to me and my family.”
“I am looking forward to championing the cause and advocating for Ward 5 to have a better slice of the pie, and I'll be looking forward to very vibrant homes and looking towards very vibrant businesses and to ensure that we have very healthy communities,” Jones said.
If elected, Democratic candidate James Richard Ridgley Jr. plans to prioritize cleaning up Ward 5, reform policing to be more accountable, and find ways to improve the viability of the Jackson Zoo.
In addition to starting up his own hemp farm in downtown Jackson, Ridgley wants to revitalize Ward 5.
“By me being raised and living in the area I just have seen a steady decline as far as living conditions, housing, just the area in general,” Ridgley said. “I want to bring back some businesses to the area when we have to first clean up the area with these abandoned houses.”
“First you have to bring back the morale. You have to pay the officers something so they can at least care about their job, but also hold them accountable. Knowing the area, what’s going on, getting back to community policing.”
Ridgley also wants to put the Jackson Zoo to better use, suggesting the zoo perhaps add a petting zoo or feature lake-side water activities. “Just bring some kind of excitement to our zoo and not the same old zoo because it's kind of outdated and boring,” he said.
“With everything that's going on right now citywide, not just in my ward, I just feel like from the infrastructure to the water, from crime, from everything, I just feel like it’s either excuses or results,” Ridgley said. “I feel like we’ve just been having too many excuses, and you can't have both.”
In a statement, Democratic Candidate Adam Troy Sanders defined his platform by his commitment to connecting with his constituency.
“I’m committed to being the voice for the people,” Sanders said. “In other words hearing what people need and to get things done. To bring unity among the city officials and to help to promote and encourage people to come together as a unit of one to make things work.”
Ward 6 sees Incumbent Democratic Ward 5 Councilman Aaron Banks face off against Brad Quinn Davis and Patricia Jackson. The primary election winner will move ahead to face Republican candidate Zidkejah Wilks in the general election.
Democratic candidate Brad Quinn Davis chose to run for city council not because he was asked by the people, but because “I prayed for the situation that God led me to throw my head in the race, to even run,” Davis said.
“My biggest platform is to be a voice for the voiceless,” Davis said. “I want to be that person that they can turn to and always keep that open door policy and someone that the constituents of Jackson can reach out to.”
“I also went as far as giving out my personal cell phone number, because I want people to understand that when they call, I want them to get a person on the other, not a generated message or generated voicemail,” Davis said. “I chose the city council to bring a new way of thinking and a change to Jackson, Mississippi.”
Democratic candidate Patricia Jackson decided to run after retiring from the Jackson Police Department, where she had been employed for 33 years in public safety administration and fingerprint analysis. Jackson’s platform focuses on crime, infrastructure and beautification.
Crime is first on Jackson’s list of priorities to address. “I know that people are not feeling safe now with the high rate of crime. So I'd like to get in, present the plan to the mayor, and try to decrease this crime by increasing the staff. If we don't increase staff, not only sworn but civilian as well, then of course we’re not going to deter it.”
Jackson wants to increase pay to officers, but notes long-time difficulty in the endeavor. “I was there 33 years, and that was always a complaint,” Jackson said.
“With my (doctorate) degree in public policy and administration (and) my years of service where I've had the chance to work with different agencies on a local, federal, county and state level, I think that I can open some doors where we can get some assistance until Jackson can get to a place where it can operate and allow people to feel safe enough to sit on their front porch, to walk out in their yard.”
Jackson would look at current infrastructure plans and prioritize communication with the mayor, while looking to beautify city streets.
“I volunteer to pick up trash, and it’s just amazing at the streets and areas in Jackson that people have made a dumping ground,” Jackson said.
“I'm a hard worker,” Jackson said. “I have no problem going to the table asking those questions that a lot of people don't want you to ask.”
Incumbent Democrat Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay is running unopposed in the primary, though she will face Libertarian candidate Bryan Keller in the general election.
“I ran the first time understanding that our City’s dire financial straits were at the core of its many challenges,” Lindsay said in a statement. “When elected, I focused on understanding the tangle of complex matters our city faces. So, when I was tapped as chair of Council committees and elected Vice President and President, I was able to make solid, informed decisions to finally help align available funds with pressing needs.”
“There is still much work to be done and many more tough decisions to be made, but I do see hope on the horizon for a better Jackson,” Lindsay said.
More information on the current Jackson City Council may be found here, while candidate information is available here.
Candidates can email additional platform information we were enable to obtain by press time to add to this story online to both [email protected] and [email protected].
How & Where to Vote?
City Primaries: Tuesday, April 6, from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Though every citizen of Jackson may vote for Jackson mayor, votes for Jackson City Council must be cast specifically for the ward in which a resident lives. Voters must register 30 days prior to Election Day, June 8, to be allowed to cast their ballot. It is too late to register to vote in the April 6 primaries.
If you wish to register to vote, there are multiple ways to do so. You can contact the Hinds County Circuit Clerk's office at, 601-968-6628, the Jackson Municipal Clerks' office at 601-960-1035, or when you obtain your driver's license by mail, online, or in person. For more information about how to register to vote you may also contact the city Elections Hotline at 1-800-829-6786. If you wish to register to vote by mail, you may fill out a registration form available here.
Absentee ballots are also allowed for city council races. Absentee applications may be requested 60 days before the general election, which means for the general election anyone can request them starting on April 6. An application must be filled out before the ballot itself can be sent. Any voter who will be away during the election or for whom going to their physical polling place would be an undue burden is eligible for an absentee ballot. For more information on absentee ballots you can call the numbers listed above.
When voting in any election you will be asked to present photo identification. If you do not present a photo ID, however, you can still cast your ballot, and you may not be turned away from voting. You have the right to request an Affidavit ballot in that moment, in which an attending official must sign off as a witness to your vote. You will then have five business days to present an acceptable ID to the Municipal Clerks office.
This identification can take the form of the following:
Photo ID card issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the State of Mississippi
United States passport
Employee photo ID card issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government
License to carry a pistol or revolver
Tribal photo ID card
Student ID card, issued by any accredited college, university or community or junior college in the State of Mississippi
Mississippi Voter ID card
Any photo ID issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government or any state government, such as a driver's license issued by a state other than Mississippi.
You also have the right to an affidavit ballot if you have a religious objection to having your photograph taken and do not have any photo ID at all. If this is the case, you would then have five business days after that specific election day to sign an Affidavit of Religious Objection in the Municipal Clerk's Office.
Once registered, you may cast your ballot in your ward's primary race, any potential runoff race, and the general election. Again, these elections are on April 6, April 27, and June 8 respectively.
Polling Place Changes
Some polling places have changed this year either temporarily or permanently. These changes, as of March 18 per the City of Jackson, are as follows:
• Precinct #45 (St. Phillips Church) has temporarily moved to McLeod Elementary School, 1616 Sandalwood Place which is Precinct #36. Voting will be held inside the cafeteria.
Change for Municipal Elections Only
• Precinct 12 (Bonner Institutional Church) located at 3032 Bishop Avenue
• Precinct 50 (St. Luther Church) located at 1040 Banks Street
• Precinct #24 (formally French Elementary School) voting will now be conducted at George Kurt's Fieldhouse Gymnasium located at 125 Gymnasium Drive, Jackson, MS
• Precinct #90 (formally Woodville Elementary School) voting will now be conducted at Christ Tabernacle Church located at 1201 Cooper Road
• Precinct #89 (formerly located inside the Metrocenter Mall) voting will now be conducted at Greater Mount Bethel Church located at 4125 Robinson Road
• Precinct #54 (Hardy Middle School) voting will be conducted at JPS Career Development Center located at 2703 1st Avenue
• Precinct #96 (formerly Miracle Temple Evangelistic Church) 418 Lakeshore Drive voting will now be conducted at Fire Station #22 located at 1590 Lakeshore Drive
• Precinct #94 (formerly located at Higher Ground Family Worship) 3520 Forest Hill Road voting will now be conducted at Willowood Community Center located at 229 Lake Cove Drive
No changes have been made to Ward 2 or Ward 7. These voting precincts will remain the same.
A full list of municipal polling places is available here.
Send story tips to Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected]