Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi

There are a lot of people that are running for the position of the next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Just for those that do not know, Jackson is the capital of Mississippi, named after President Andrew Jackson (its original name was Lefleur's Bluff). It has a population of nearly 200,000 and a Metropolitan Statistical Area of around 500,000. Thirty years ago, Jackson was considered one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Today, it has stagnant economic growth compared to cities of similar size such as Richmond, Virginia, Birmingham, Alabama and Orlando, Florida.

It is a majority African-American city (73%) with a strong mayor-council form of government. It has seen new development in the downtown area and a rise in the murder rate for the first time in four years (68 homicides as of this writing). The infrastructure is crumbling and job opportunities are diminishing, while Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi Medical Center are expanding.

There are accusations of financial mismanagement during a national recession and a period of dwindling tax revenues. And if that does not whet your appetite, the current Mayor is under federal indictment for civil rights violations committed in his unorthodox effort to fight crime.

This is the environment that the next mayor faces. So who would want to take on this challenge? Following the rumblings, it seems like everyone that has political ambitions in Jackson. The list is as follows:

Robert Johnson, a former Jackson Police Chief and former director of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. He is currently a private security consultant.

The Honorable John Horhn, a veteran member of the Mississippi Senate, representing the Northwest Jackson area, and a former Mabus administration appointee.

The Honorable Eddie Fair, the current Hinds County Tax Collector and successful businessman.

The Honorable Marshand Crisler, the current Councilman for Ward 6, which encompasses most of south Jackson. He is a Iraqi War Veteran, a Hinds County Deputy Sheriff and the former police chief of Utica, MS

The Honorable Harvey Johnson, Jr., the previous mayor of Jackson (the first African-American ever elected to the post). He is a college professor and a former director of the Mississippi Institute for Small Towns.

David Archie, a community activist and the co-host of a radio talk show, "What's Going On" on WMPR-FM.

And finally, The Honorable Frank Melton, the current embattled mayor as aforementioned. Melton is a former television executive and the former director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

Many of the candidates are running to prove that they are a more responsible leader than Melton and Melton himself is running on a campaign of vindication, even though his trial is pending next month. What I am not hearing is any vision from the candidates.

Now grant it it is early, the election is in May 2009 and the filing deadline is in March, so there may be more aspirants. But from what is being conveyed so far, this is nothing more than a typical Jackson election, which means it is really a power play for control of the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce. Different factions have emerged under the leadership of Socrates Garrett, the current chairman of the chamber board, thus the plethora of candidates raising monies and vying for the position.

Yard signs are already being posted, and radio spots are running, but the lack of a vision for Jackson is telling. It will be interesting who will emerge as the true visionary leader, not just a temporary steward to guide Jackson through the immediate tough times. I personally would like to know what each candidate perceives Jackson should look like in the next ten years.

I look at a city like Orlando, which has become a major tourist stop, thanks to DisneyWorld, and has a professional sports team. It is growing at a steady pace, expected to reach 300,000 by the next census. The major infrastructure commitments made by the city leaders showed that they had a vision of growth in years past. Will we have a leader that will exemplify that same vision?

As the campaign heats up after the new year arrives, it is imperative to see how the voters of Jackson respond to this onslaught of candidates, and will their decision be based on substance or style. I hope that the voters in Jackson hold the candidates accountable in forcing them to express their long-term vision for the city they wish to lead.

This is not a beauty contest. This is the most significant election to determine the viability of Jackson as a major U.S. city. Politicians may fail to meet the expectations, but the citizens of must demand the highest of standards in this time of Jackson's history. Time to separate the wheat from the chafe.