THE DEFINING MOMENT of the Jackson mayoral debate came when a panelist asked Mayor Johnson who “them” is. Johnson has been running ads about “them” — the “powerful and privileged” who seek to turn back the clock and ruin Jackson.
Johnson responded, giving his personal definition of “them”: “Those mean spirited people who would rather criticize and point out negatives of the city rather than to work together to move this city forward. The people who are out there who support and get a charge out of slick talk, cheap talk criticizing
this city in 45 second sound bites. Those are the enemies of the city.”
Johnson, in essence, is calling his opponents “enemies” of the city. His reference to the 45-second sound bites is a clear reference to his opponent
Frank Melton and his supporters.
I may have voted for George Bush, but I never considered John Kerry an “enemy” of the United States.
When George Washington left office, he warned that excessive partisanship was the greatest threat to our young country. His wise words are still true today. As a result, I often make my voting decisions based on the tone taken by the
candidate during the race. One of my pet peeves is when a candidate tries to pit one group against another.
Twelve years is a long time for one person to run a city. That’s one reason we have term limits for the president of the United States and governor of
Mississippi. Twelve years is an especially long time to give someone who sees his political opponents as enemies.
In the United States, “power and privilege” is not awarded by lottery. It is earned — sometimes over lifetimes, sometimes over generations. Sure
there are a few powerful people who achieved their power through ill-gotten gains. But the vast majority of the “powerful” got that way through
hard work and offering goods and services that other people valued enough to pay for. That’s how our free market works. Blasting the “powerful and
privileged” is a cheap, desperate political stunt that politicians have been pulling for ages. It appeals to the worst in voters — greed, envy, fear and hate.
I OBSERVED JOHNSON’S political paranoia many years ago when I was vice chairman of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. As it happened, the chairman, whom I served under, was none other than Frank Melton.
This was many years ago and crime was raging even worse then than now. The crime commission was a biracial group of concerned citizens who were freely offering their time and money to help fix Jackson’s devastating crime problem.
Almost immediately, Johnson bowed his back and saw us as a threat. He wouldn’t meet with us. He shot down our efforts. He basically told us togo home and leave crime fighting to the professionals.
How ironic that Johnson is now claiming credit for the very initiatives that he fought. The Maple-Linder study and the Comstat program are a direct result of the efforts of the crime commission under Frank Melton.
I sat in meeting after meeting in which our biggest problem was getting the mayor to work with us. In the end, the crime commission prevailed and reforms were implemented. But it was Frank Melton and the Metropolitan Crime
Commission who did it. The mayor was the last person to join the party. Now he claims credit for the drop in crime.
I’m talking about a character trait here. The mayor should have embraced the crime commission with open arms. He should have praised our community involvement and offered to work with us in any way he could. Instead, we were the enemy. Just as all his opponents are enemies.
Just this year, the Sun asked for copies of Jackson’s audited city budgets. What could possibly be more public information than a government budget? Yet we were seen as enemies and had to threaten to sue to get the information. It
took us six months.
Jackson crime is down, but we can’t rest on our laurels. According to FBI studies, for every reported crime, there’s one unreported crime. That’s about 25,000 major crimes a year in a city with about 75,000 households. That’s still way too high. It’s no time for Jackson to be patting itself on the back. Melton understands that. He is raising the bar. Just as Melton has high expectations for
the young people he teaches, he has high expectations for Jackson. This is a good thing.
Frank Melton is one of the most inclusive people I have ever met. Melton doesn’t care who you are or where you come from. He cares about what
you can do to help. That’s what he means when he talks about wanting to hire people with a “passion” to help Jackson.
While Johnson alienates the “powerful and the privileged,” Melton embraces them as important players in the effort to make Jackson a great city. Melton is that rare person who seems to see human beings as equals, no matter what their walk of life. That’s why he is a genuine political phenomenon — a candidate who can get the down-and-out urban vote while also getting the
“rich and powerful” vote. This is a rare opportunity for Jackson.
Johnson has not been a bad mayor at all. I have written extensively about his fine record in previous columns. I thank him for his eight years of service. And Melton has his own unique character flaws, which are clearly portrayed in his failure to vote and subsequent lame explanation.
That being said, I’ll trade Melton’s passion for Johnson’s paranoia any day of the year.
Column by Wyatt Emerich