David Martin, a 29-year-old engineer at Hunter Engineering Company's Raymond office, says that a boosted Jackson economy is on his wish list for Jackson's next mayor. The Jacksonian packed his red car at Raceway gas station on Highway 18 to fill up on gas on March 20 and spoke with the reporter there to interview Jackson residents on what they want from the winning mayoral candidate in the coming election.
Seven people are running against Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba to wrest the city's leadership from his grasp after his first term ends in early July. Two Democrats are running against him: fireman Kenneth Wilson and west Jackson native Patty Patterson; two Republicans: Jason Wells and Ponto Downing; and three independent candidates: Shafeqah Lodree, Charlotte Reeves and Les Tannehill.
The April 6 primary election only includes candidates running as Democrats or Republicans. The three independent candidates will join the two parties' primary election winners as contestants in the June 8 municipal general election.
Martin said he believes that the city is full of potential awaiting exploration. Rather than see degradation, he sees possibilities and wants an emphasis on management, refusing to buy into the narrative that Jackson has a shortage of resources.
"I want more concern with how money is being spent in Jackson," Martin said. "Jackson is not—I guess you could say—a poor city; we have a lot of resources that are mismanaged basically." He did not provide any data to back this claim.
"You have a lot of (calls for) help that goes unanswered like they don't—I guess—try, they don't try all the things that they could be trying to make this city better than what it could be," Martin added. "You got a lot of rundown areas of town that could be used, we can boost the economy, we've got the space, and we've got the people, so we've got the workforce, but there are no jobs for the workforce we have."
Martin says more opportunities for young people will go a long way. "But if there aren't nobody hiring, what else (are) they going to do?" he asked. "I just want to see (a) better direction for the city."
Carrie Jones, also at the gas station,
expressed concern about the city's water situation, still reeling from the February winter storm that resulted in water outages and a month-long citywide boil-water notice. She wants repairs to be a priority, including low water pressure. Even after the city lifted the boil-water notice one month after the water crisis started, "people are still afraid to drink the water," Jones said. "People (are) still kind of leery of it."
City of Jackson Election Commission Chairwoman Linda Sanders said her team is preparing for the 138,000 people on the voter roll, but projected based on past numbers that far fewer will turn up to vote.
"We have ordered equipment, and we also ordered ballots for everybody, and we're prepared and ready for them," she told the Jackson Free Press on March 18. "We don't even get 50,000 voters for the municipal, but of course we prepare for them, and we are ready for them."
The capital city's population is currently about 160,000 people, down from a historic high of 200,000.
Chokwe A. Lumumba, Incumbent Democrat
In statements provided to the Jackson Free Press, Lumumba referenced his popularity in the 2017 municipal election that ushered in his first term, saying he won the large Democratic primary field convincingly without a runoff and claimed numerous achievements. On why he is seeking reelection, he touts his experience of the last four years.
"Jackson needs a mayor who has been tested, who has shown up for our city, who understands the process and, in spite of the challenges, knows how to collaborate and get things done," he said in the statement.
Lumumba's reelection website contains a video of him addressing the increased rate of homicide—128 in 2020—in the city under his watch and what he plans to do about it.
"Most important aspect of this job is the work that we do to protect the lives of our residents," he said. "The violence we have experienced in our city has revealed the deep crisis in which too many of our families find themselves and the need to challenge ourselves to meet these new realities with much more."
Lumumba mentioned more officers' recruitment and adjustment of entry-level salaries for JPD, provision of body cameras and improved street lighting as parts of his efforts. He said that the pandemic had aggravated societal problems. He also noted that state and federal governments should do more for mental health and other supports.
"Our vision of Jackson will be a city that seeks to solve problems of crime holistically as symptoms of much deeper issues," Lumumba said in the video presentation. "A city with commitment and compassion for all of our residents, a holistic approach to addressing the root causes of crime is important because it works."
Patty Patterson, Democrat
Patterson provided information to the Jackson Free Press revealing her work as an entrepreneur and on community-engagement initiatives. She said she is running for mayor to get Jackson back on the right track.
"With the understanding of municipal government, I can start on Day One with a plan of action to improve our essential qualities," she stated. "Improving our water quality, crime-fighting abilities, infrastructure, and public education system will allow our city to build strong economic base."
The first thing on her vision on her campaign website is "Crime and Public Safety," a common concern.
"Jackson's Police and Fire Departments must be equipped with modern technology and adequate resources in order to serve and protect the citizens of Jackson," she stated. "It is equally important that our first responders safely return homes to their families."
"Programs will be initiated to create a stable workforce and reduce crime," she added. "We can also get a stronger grip on crime when we remove guns from the hands of irresponsible citizens."
She mentioned mental health as linked to crime and said she will take a stronger approach toward addressing it and also join forces with other law enforcement agencies.
Kenneth Wilson, Democrat
Kenneth Wilson, Ridgewood Park Neighborhood Association president and former City of Jackson firefighter, is campaigning on five issues, as noted on his campaign website: public safety, infrastructure, community improvement, education and economic improvement.
In a YouTube video, Wilson mentioned the impact of high homicide rates on families and said that businesses are leaving because of crime. "Good businesses that have been burglarized multiple times, and absolutely nothing has been done about it," he said.
Wilson mentioned that his solution to the safety concern starts with appointing another police chief, replacing James Davis. However, Lumumba has stated that Davis has his confidence.
"The first thing we have to do, we have to appoint a (police) chief that the men and women will support. I think that's very essential if we intend to improve the city of Jackson," Wilson said. His solution also includes providing youth-based programs. His background information he sent to Jackson Free Press detailed his involvement in the life of young people in the city.
He said he is running for mayor to put in place creative leadership.
"Crime has spread across our city so much that our elders will not commute after dark," he stated. "My crime plan requires implementing community policing, which makes Jackson Police Department a proactive Police Department versus what we currently have is a reactive Police Department."
Jason Wells, Republican
Thirty-eight-year-old Republican Jason Wells, a Lexington, Miss., police officer who stays in Jackson, said in a statement to the Jackson Free Press that crime is first among his priorities if he becomes mayor. He promises a focus on law enforcement and to give pay raises to those not included in the Lumumba administration's pay raise. "Combating crime is multi-faceted," he stated. "Law enforcement officers along with community members have a considerable part to play." He decries the number of police officers in the city compared to the population.
"Community members can't go silent or intentionally mislead police when questioned about crimes and those who commit them, family or not," he added. "Gotta change the culture, JPD and community members. Zero tolerance ... from littering to capital murder. True accountability-Zero Tolerance culture."
Ponto Downing, Republican
Seventy-six-year-old Ponto Downing joins Wells on the ballot on April 6 for the city-wide Republican primary election. He described himself as walking history in a written statement to the Jackson Free Press. Downing told this reporter that he distances himself from the internet but will have to use it if he becomes mayor. "I'm running for mayor out of desperation," he stated. "Someone has to do something--soon!"
"If elected all of Jackson's problems will be solved quickly!" he added. "But I know my odds of being Mayor are 100-1! But hopefully, Gov. Tate Reeves will intervene (and) rescue the capitol."
At a mayoral debate presented by Women for Progress, Downing said he does not actually want to be mayor, but feels like he has to run. He also claimed without evidence that there is a "war on white people" in Jackson. (He is white.)
All Voters Can Vote in Primary
Jackson Election Commission Chairwoman Sanders told the Jackson Free Press that the two parties have contracted with the municipal election body to conduct the April 6 primary election after absentee voting ends on April 3. Any registered voter in the city can participate at any of the 82 precincts in the primary election without identifying as a registered Republican or Democrat, Sanders said.
"In Mississippi, a primary candidate must win a majority of the votes cast for the office he or she is seeking in order to secure the nomination," Ballotpedia, dubbed the digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections, stated. "If no candidate for an office wins a majority of votes cast in the primary, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters is held."
Any possible runoff in the election will be between the two candidates with the highest votes on a ballot. The three-way Democratic party primary may lead to a runoff if none of the candidates wins more than 50% of the cast votes. Based on this requirement, the Republican primary, which is between two people, will not go into a runoff; one of the two will get more than half.
"If you are a registered voter, and you are a registered voter within 30 days before the date of the election, you can vote, either Republican or Democrat," Sanders said. "You can vote (but) you can't vote for both of them."
Each precinct will have a Democratic Party area and a Republican Party area, and the voters will choose one of the two to vote under but not both. Election Commissioner Sanders said each precinct on primary election day will have separate tables for the two parties. "The Democrats will have their own table, and the Republicans on the other side will have (their) own table. And you go to the one that you choose to vote in," Sanders said.
There is the option of write-ins to vote for someone else other than the candidates listed for the mayor and ward positions. The Republican party's primary ballot has only the mayoral position listed. It is the only position with more than one Republican candidate.
The three independent mayoral candidates will join the Democratic and Republican primary elections winners on the ballot on June 8 for the general election.
Les Tannehill, Independent
Independent candidate Tannehill, former Jackson Police Department and former Hinds County Sheriff's Department officer and business owner, said on his campaign website that rebuilding the city to "be a safe and prosperous city is going to take partnerships."
"I have developed many contacts and formed many relationships on the federal, state and local levels," he stated. "All of which would be glad to participate in making the City of Jackson a better place for all of us and our families to live, work, play and worship."
In a statement on his plan for the city, Tannehill said that he is running for mayor because he feels the pain of the capital city. "In the streets of Jackson, MS I have felt the pain of dying young men, who had been shot, as I knelt beside them trying to stop the bleeding until paramedics arrived," he said.
"As a law enforcement officer, I felt the pain of being underpaid, under-appreciated, under-staffed and overworked," he added. "I've felt the pain of the Jackson Fire Department, who worked hand-in-hand with us, face the same difficulties working tirelessly, responding to call after call."
Shafeqah "BigMama" Lodree, Independent
Lodree, who runs a bail bonding business, wants to fight crime, according to a statement she provided to the Jackson Free Press on her background.
"Once elected, one of her primary focuses will be reducing crime," the statement said. "Having worked in the bail industry for over a decade, she's had a bird's eye view of the plethora of flaws in the system."
"She acknowledges the need for what she calls 'Jail Reform' and has a plan to Bail Jackson out! Appointing a competent and engaged Chief that understands the importance of maintaining a great morale in the department can drastically reduce crime in Jackson."
She stated that she wants to reach out to registered voters who have not been turning up at the polls. "The population of Jackson is over 150,000, and I haven't seen 50,000 people vote in municipal elections in years," she said. "That lets me know that at least another 50,000 people have given up."
Charlotte Reeves, Independent
Businesswoman Charlotte Reeves also addressed insecurity in her statement of purpose she sent to the Jackson Free Press.
"Under the Reeves leadership, the depressed, doomed and gloomy crime infested city will be revitalized," the past mayoral candidate stated. "As Mayor, citizens will not have to wait another year, another term, or another 3 decades to see a positive improvement in Jackson."
She indicated that her political relationships will help the city. "Over her lifetime, she has watched the city fall apart. Reeves refused to give up on Jackson—a city she loves," the document says.
More than a Job
Forty-seven-year-old Roymon Gathrite told the Jackson Free Press at the Raceway gas station that he desires that the mayor of Jackson, after the June 8 election, will display the highest commitment.
"I expect for the next mayor of Jackson to have some concern for the city and the citizens of Jackson, not just have a position or a job," Gathrite told the Jackson Free Press. "(I expect the person) to bring the city back to life, not just talk about it, but to be about it."
"I would like to see businesses coming back to Jackson. You got less jobs in Jackson, and they're just not putting forth the effort to just get things done and put them in the right perspective," he added.
Painter Jake Walters, 40, said he wants a focus on the infrastructure and tighter budgeting from the mayor, while reflecting on the winter storm that exposed the city's aging water infrastructure.
"We need some help as far as the water supply goes, and some of the outlying cities around Jackson have newer infrastructure than Jackson by at least 75 years," Walters said. "So we need more of our budget (going towards) fixing the pipes and making sure that we have generally quicker response time as it relates to when the power goes out or when the water goes out."
"I'd like for the people's voice to be considered before actions are taken just on a basic level," he added.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.