Televised debate of mayoral candidates show important sides not always seen

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Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba at the Women For Progress Mayoral Debate. (Photo courtesy of Women For Progress of MS)

By Ivory Phillips

JA Contributing Editor

In less than a month, on April 6, 2021, the citizens of Jackson will vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries for mayor of the city.  The winners of those two primaries will then face the opposing primary nominee and three independent candidates.

The independent mayoral candidates are Shafeqah Lodree, Charlotte Reeves, and Les Tannehill. Debates and other forms of campaigning are underway to determine whether the Democratic nominee will be Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Patty Patterson, or Ken Wilson and whether the Republican nominee will be Ponto Downing or Jason Wells.  

Women for Progress sponsored a televised discussion between three of the mayoral candidates last week.  It was hosted by Mississippi College School of Law and moderated by Donna Ladd of the Jackson Free Press and Dr. D’Andra Orey of Jackson State University.  The participating candidates were Republican Ponto Downing and Democrats Chokwe Antar Lumumba and Ken Wilson.  It covered the broad topics of:  the water crisis, the Siemens Settlement, crisis management, economic development, the Jackson Zoo, blight elimination, and youth, crime, and policing.

Prior to the on-air discussion, each of the three made statements on their top priority that provided insight into what would be each’s overall posture.  In response to the question of his top priority, Ponto Downing said it was closing the abortion clinic 

in Jackson.  This may have taken some by surprise in its somewhat irrelevance to the office of the mayor of Jackson.  In response to the same question, Lumumba listed the city’s infrastructure and crime in the city.  But it did open eyes as to what was to follow from him.  Wilson voiced his idea on the water crisis.  As the discussion proceeded, Wilson again and again visited what he considered Lumumba’s failure to adequately address the water crisis.  It was his major point of attack.  Lumumba’s response to his priority reflected on the two issues that most citizens seem to consider – the infra-structure, including the water crisis, and crime.

As the discussion, which many have termed a debate, unfolded, Downing continued to make responses which, to put it kindly, were irrelevant and/or incoherent in the context of the discussion.  Just a few examples can illustrate this point.  Regarding the water crisis, he said that Jackson should sell the airport and use that money to fix the problem.  Regarding crime, he stated on the one hand that youth are not afraid of the police, but on the other hand suggested that the solution was the need for more police.  Early in the discus-sion, he stated that he was not interested in being the mayor, he was more interested in go-ing to Congress.  In his closing statement, he simply offered the suggestion that Dr. Erick Greene should be replaced and the public school system be taken over by the state.  Repeatedly, when it became his turn to respond to a question under discussion, he had to ask what was the question.

Unfortunately, because the other Republican candidate, Jason Wells, was not present, citizens who desire to elect a Republican as mayor were given no choice in that discussion.   In some campaign material, it is stated that Wells advanced the idea that Jackson needs Republican leadership after more than 20 years of rising crime and declining streets, festivals, and available jobs.  He was, nevertheless, not present to present his ideas in that setting.

On the Democratic side, Wilson appeared to be quite familiar with what things have gone wrong and the feeling of many people about those matters.  This was particularly true in the case of the water crisis and the Siemens settlement.  In terms of crisis management, he suggested that he was a servant/leader.  On the other issues, he offered the follow-ing – more community policing and more police officers in order to reduce crime; renovating the area around the zoo in order to boost its attendance; making blighted/abandoned property available to neighborhood people; and improving relations with Jackson Public Schools and more creativity and account-ability in order to reduce crime among youth.

Lumumba approached most of the questions in the manner of one who has had to deal with the issues presented.  For an example, in talking about the water crisis and the infrastructure, he pointed to the historical neglect and current lack of funds to adequately solve the problems, including the restrictive use of certain funds.  He talked about the importance of collective leadership and his attempt at weekly press conferences to keep people informed.  On several questions, he indicated that Wilson’s responses were just what he had done regarding the matters.  These were in reference to the idea of auditing the zoo as a first step to improving its situation and following the advice of the experts in the matter of infrastructure maintenance and repairs.  As is often the case, the incumbent seemed more con-versant with the on-going issues than those aspiring to the office.    

As in the case of Republican Jason Wells, the audience was not able to hear from Patty Patterson, who is running as a Democrat.  Although Patterson has run for other offices before, the audience could possibly have learned more from her had she been present.  Some of her campaign material indicates that she, too, is concerned about crime as a problem and the apparent lack of a comprehensive infrastructure plan for the city of Jackson.

Hopefully, we will soon have an opportunity to hear from all five candidates running in the April 6th primary election.  Whatever we do hear, however, should definitely be taken with a grain of salt because candidates always try to say what they feel people want to hear.  In addition to that, however, they should always be evaluated in light of what they have done and failed to do in the past, whether in that office or some other context.  They should also be evaluated in terms of their associates and advisors and their competence and influence.

We appreciate Women for Progress, Mississippi College School of Law, Donna Ladd, Dr. D’Andra Orey, and all of the others who helped present the discussion.  Citizens must now do their part on April 6, 2021.