Chokwe Antar Lumumba and Tony Yarber stood toe-to-toe for 60 minutes Tuesday night debating issues and questioning the other’s readiness to lead the city.
After it was over, one observer called it a heavyweight fight as the two sparred over the issues and at time had heated exchanges in the debate sponsored by The Clarion-Ledger, WAPT-TV and Mississippi College School of Law.
At stake: Trying to convince voters to select one of them to become Jackson’s next mayor. And the winner will become the youngest mayor to hold the office in memory.
Both are vying to serve out the remaining three years in the term of Lumumba’s late father, Chokwe Lumumba, who died in office unexpectedly in February. The elder Lumumba was elected mayor last year after serving on the City Council.
The two answered questions about priorities in appointing a permanent public works director, supporting the move of the Sanderson Farms golf tournament to Jackson, pay for police officers and keeping people safe in the city.
But the highlight of the debate may have been Lumumba and Yarber posing questions to each other.
Lumumba asked Yarber to explain why he was absent for the City Council vote to call for a referendum on the one cent sales tax measure. The late mayor pushed for voters to approve the tax to pay for infrastructure improvements in the city.
“Please explain why you didn’t have the courage to vote?” Lumumba asked Yarber.
Yarber said he was at an event at a Jackson elementary school that had been planned for two months. But Lumumba said Yarber had other opportunities to support the measure but didn’t.
One of Yarber’s questions to Lumumba was about the increase in water rates in the city.
“If you were ingrained with your father, why did you push out water rates that doubled water bills?” Yarber asked Lumumba.
Lumumba said a bigger jump in water rates was needed because the city was far behind in addressing aging water pipes and other needs.
Lumumba also questioned Yarber’s record as principal of Marshall Elementary School. Lumumba said the school’s rating improved after Yarber left. Yarber said he was the catalyst for changes at the school and the new principal reaped the fruit of his action.