AS A NEWSPAPERMAN and an American, I
don’t think there’s anything more exciting and fulfilling
than having a front-row seat to a no-holdsbarred,
tough, vigorous political race.
The Jackson mayoral race is shaping up to be one
of the most exciting local races I’ve ever witnessed.
May the best man win.
Just as in sports, the ultimate winner will be the
one who did the most work behind the scenes, the
one who stayed late working on his shots, tying up
the loose ends and making the one last phone call
or going to that one last neighborhood meeting.
Incumbent Harvey Johnson has a lot going for
him. During his administration, crime has dropped
dramatically and he has marshalled support for
several significant downtown development projects.
Despite overseeing 1,000 employees, there
have been no major scandals in his administration
during a time when two city councilmen went to
jail. He has represented Jackson well during a
Johnson has worked hard and spoken at hundreds
of venues. He has built a loyal and widespread
power base. He cuts an impressive path: he is
smooth, polished and articulate. He has dramatically
rebuilt the police force and has accepted the
nearly overwhelming task of rebuilding our water
system, unflinchingly facing the political heat for
doubling water rates. Johnson is steady, conservative
and predictable. He is the ultimate city planner.
Frank Melton almost seems too good to be true.
He’s a self-made multi-multimillionaire who has
spent the last 15 or so years working his entire summers
running the downtown YMCA. Melton was
born a man of modest means and pursued social
work as his career. Through luck and skill, he parlayed
his natural charisma and photogenic personality
into a media empire.
There is no telling how many thousands of young
men Melton has influenced for the better over the
years as he toiled selflessly in the toughest parts of
Jackson. How can anyone possibly question his
Jackson roots given his history of service?
Melton is a Democrat who can get Republicans
to cross over and vote for him. That’s quite a trick.
What turns the Republicans on is Melton’s stand on
personal responsibility. Melton doesn’t make
excuses for his young men. Instead, he demands
that they meet the highest expectations in achievement,
dress, manners and responsibility. Melton is
a Democrat who understands the importance of the
cultural issues that led to Bush’s November victory.
Republicans also respect Melton’s personal success
in the business world.
WHATACONTRAST! If you could merge the
two men, you’d have the perfect mayor. Where
Johnson is plodding, Melton shoots from the hip.
Where Johnson rewards his supporters and shores
his base, Melton reaches out to everybody and tells
everybody what they want to hear. Where Johnson
labors over the 10 year plan, Melton is ready to
spring into action tomorrow.
I recently joined Melton on his ?Reality Ride’
through some of the toughest parts of Jackson. As
I walked onto the bus, Melton saw me, put his hand
on my shoulder and said, “Thanks for coming. You
have a good heart.”
He started to walk away, then stopped and turned
around, looked me in the eye and said, “You know
you get that from your father.”
Okay, I admit I’m easy, but for the next several
days I was under his spell. Agreat politician can do
that. Let’s face it, Melton oozes charisma. And he
is just so darn smart. Smart is good. As a businessman
I am somewhat in awe of his amazing success
story. You just can’t achieve what he has achieved
without being immensely gifted.
Melton has some significant liabilities. He has
shown he is willing to run roughshod over personal
liberties in order to achieve his goals. He can go
off half-cocked. If he is to be an effective mayor, he
will have to tone it down.
I predict Melton will win with 54 percent in the
Democratic primary. Johnson’s last opponent got
nearly 40 percent of the vote, even though he was
a young, inexperienced Republican.
Melton’s running as a Democrat. He’s got a ton
of money. He’s a natural politician. He’s earned his
stripes running the downtown Y for years. He’s a
household name and, most importantly, he can get
Republicans to vote for him. All those combined
should easily get the extra 10 percent he needs to
win. The only legitimate poll I’ve seen confirms
Melton’s a ?big picture’ guy who gets tripped up
over some pretty big details — like voting and residency.
Melton’s failure to vote is a significant negative
and his explanation just made matters worse.
It’s a good body blow by Johnson, but voters will
vote big picture over details all day long.
Johnson is pulling out all stops, claiming that he’s
running against the “privileged and powerful.”
That’s the oldest political trick in the book. It just so
happens the people he’s knocking are the very ones
who can make or break Jackson. If Jackson is to be
saved, it needs those people. Melton understands
that. Johnson does not.