Jackson mayoral race turns negative on social media
Lumumba, Yarber lead crowded field
Monday, April 7, 2014 10:44 AM
See bios of the leading candidates here.
The Jackson mayoral race has turned negative on social media.
JACKSON - The race for mayor has gotten a little contentious since the weekend, especially on social media and one political blog.
Seven candidates stand out in a crowded field in a special election set for tomorrow (Tuesday, April 8).
A video that emerged on the political blog JacksonJambalaya.com draws comparisons between leading candidate Chokwe Antar Lumumba and the movie "The Lion King."
Lumumba was urged by his father's supporters to run following Mayor Chokwe Lumumba's death on Feb. 25.
According to a poll conducted by The Republic Group, LLC on March 17 that sampled 525 likely voters, Lumumba held a slight lead over all other candidates with a 17.25 percent positive response.
Just behind Lumumba in that same poll was Ward 6 City Councilman Tony Yarber.
The Lumumba video, which can be seen here, opens with a snippet of Lumumba telling the audience his age, then cuts to the familiar Disney character singing "I just can't wait to be king" from the 1994 classic.
Lumumba has not responded publicly to the video.
Former Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr., was not taking his criticism in the race so lightly.
Johnson was the target of a mailer sent out by the campaign of State Sen. John Horhn which accused Johnson and City Council members - namely the three who are also running for the office: Margaret Barrett-Simon, Tony Yarber and Melvin Priester - of raising water bills "25%, 35%, 40% ÐÊmaybe even 100%!"
Johnson fired back on Monday with a Facebook post, saying he only raised water rates one time during his final six years in office, a 12-percent hike in 2011.
Not to be outdone, Johnson ended the post by taking a swipe at Horhn, saying instead of pledging last week to refrain from attacks on his opponents, Horhn should have admitted his next order of business "would be to launch a false attack on me."
Flyers from an anonymous source circulating at Jackson churches Sunday link Yarber, an African-American, to the Tea Party and suggest Yarber was dismissed from his job as a principal at a South Jackson middle school after a scandal.
During a debate on Friday, candidates were prompted to ask other candidates direct questions. Older candidates grilled young candidates about their inexperience, and younger candidates queried the older candidates about past mistakes.Ê
Even Ward 7 councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon got in on the action, asking Horhn why he voted "yes" on Senate Bill 2681, the controversial "religious freedom" bill that had drawn so much criticism from Democrats. Horhn admitted he was recorded as a "yes" vote only because he was absent from the chamber, and does not agree with the language.
Polls open Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. and are open until 7 p.m.
In a city the size of Jackson, five weeks is not a lot of time to put together a mayoral campaign, but that's exactly how long the 15 candidates had to craft their messages.
Even many seasoned political analysts have been at a loss in predicting this important race.
As Jackson goes, so Madison County goes. That's why Jacksonians won't be the only ones with their eyes on the capital city Tuesday.
The short election cycle brings several factors into play.
First, the massive war chests of campaign finance candidates amassed during the last election, when Chokwe Lumumba defeated businessman Jonathan Lee by a seven-percent margin, are being spent at a much quicker pace.
As of April 2, Lumumba had raised just under $139,000, a shade below the $140,000 his father raised for the general election and that total was nearly $34,000 more than any other candidate in this race.
Money, name recognition and inexperience will almost certainly keep Kenneth Swarts, Albert Wilson, Francis P. Smith, John Reed, Tonya Brooks, Tammie Patterson, Rodrick Walker and Gwendolyn Ward Osborne Chapman out of a likely run-off election.
The younger Lumumba is running on picking up his father's mantle, which appears to be a solid platform for appealing to Jackson voters. He's backing infrastructure improvements and a shift away from outsourcing and privatizing city services to a larger and more centralized government.
In his only budget, the late Lumumba raised total spending by 43.3 percent to just over $502 million.
While the 31-year-old Lumumba has extremely limited political experience, he isn't just running on his name or trying to capture the sympathy vote.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tuskegee University and a Juris Doctorate from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. Like his father, he is an active member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which strives to create an independent black socialist nation in the U.S. South.
He has praised his father's plans, which he says he "co-authored," but has said he would handle some aspects of the job differently, such as how he handles appointments to city positions.
Community development and financial empowerment are high on his priority list, and he doesn't have any major baggage (the plus-side of having practically no political record). He earned an endorsement from the Jackson Free Press, the city's alternative weekly newspaper.
Just behind Lumumba, the 36-year-old Yarber has served on the council since 2009, representing the mostly residential Ward 6 in South Jackson.
The University of Southern Mississippi graduate served as a principal before wading into politics, and is usually quick to turn the conversation to the city's ailing school system when discussing the city's biggest problems (i.e. crime and poverty).
The race very well might come down to these two candidates unless another candidate is able to make headway in the precious few days remaining in the race.
"I think there's a good chance it comes down to Lumumba and Yarber," Hinds County Republican Chairman Pete Perry said. "But I think (Lumumba's supporters) will have a much tougher time painting Yarber as a Republican, like his father was able to do so effectively against Jonathan Lee."
Margaret Barrett-Simon, another formidable candidate, is the longest-serving member of the Jackson City Council. She's represented Ward 7, which stretches from Fondren to downtown, since 1985.
There is no disputing that race plays a huge part in Jackson politics, and the 69-year-old Barrett-Simon is the only white candidate with a realistic shot at getting elected.
A Democrat, she has already picked up an endorsement in a column from the more conservative Northside Sun newspaper. And although she has received a great deal of support from African-Americans in past city council elections, she has never had to coax voters from West Jackson and South Jackson.
"I represent the most diverse ward in the city," Barrett-Simon said Friday by phone. "I know that I am more than capable of taking on the task of representing the entire city. I have proven results over years of experience, and that's something that should be acknowledged on April 8."
Barrett-Simon brings experience, but if she ends up in a run-off with Lumumba or Yarber (often her ally on the council), she would face an uphill battle.
"I think Margaret is going to be surprised by the number of white votes she doesn't get," Perry said. "Even if she did get 100 percent (of the white vote), whoever her opponent is in the run-off would paint her as the white, Republican candidate. I do think that her amount of support will be a major factor in who makes the run-off."
Melvin Priester, Jr. is somewhat of a wild card. He's got money - he had raised $104,635 as of April 1 and he has the backing of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state's most prominent Democrat.
Priester is Stanford educated and his father, Melvin Priester, Sr., is a Hinds County District Judge.
It was Thompson's endorsement and radio ads attacking Lee as a Republican that put the late Mayor Lumumba over the top in his run-off with Lee last year. But interestingly, Thompson balked at endorsing Lumumba's son in this election.
Priester has support among high-income African-Americans, but his family's wealth could bring him under fire if he gets into a run-off with Yarber or Lumumba, who have both campaigned as a "man of the people."
The other two major candidates that round out the field are familiar faces, former Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr. and state Sen. John Horhn.
Johnson served as mayor for three terms before being defeated by Frank Melton in 2005.
When Melton died in May of 2009, Johnson returned for another stint as mayor.
In 2013, he finished third in the Democratic primary behind Lee and Lumumba.
Johnson still has support from several prominent lawyers and business owners, but if the results of last year's election are any indication, his base has almost completely left him.
Horhn gets lumped in with Johnson because he is likely competing with the former mayor for the same votes.
Older African-American voters who don't want to put the city's future in the hands of a young mayor will likely gravitate toward either of these two candidates, but splitting that vote won't get either into a run-off.
Regina Quinn, who serves as lead attorney for Jackson State University, finished fourth in the 2013 election, and ended up throwing her support behind Lumumba in the runoff. She was late getting into the race, and didn't have the kind of coming-out party needed to make up for lost time. She finished last in The Republic Group's March poll.
Here are links to Jackson Free Press interviews:
Harvey Johnson, Jr.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba
Melvin Priester, Jr.