Perry – New mayors take office

Republicans lead Democrats in mayoral offices in Mississippi’s top 15 cities with nine seats to the Democrats six. Gulfport, Biloxi, Meridian, Tupelo, Southaven, Pascagoula, Clinton, Pearl and Olive Branch elected Republican mayors. Jackson, Hattiesburg, Greenville, Vicksburg, Columbus, and Starkville elected Democrats. The partisan breakdown remains unchanged from last cycle except Vicksburg where Democrats defeated an independent for a pick-up.

The Vicksburg win by Paul Winfield with about 60 percent of the vote over two-term incumbent Laurence Leyens was a highlight of the Democrats night. Other big wins include a 96-vote squeaker as incumbent Connie Moran stayed off a challenge by well-funded Republican Scott Walker in Ocean Springs. Doug Lee returned to office in Lucedale by defeating two-term Republican incumbent Dayton Whites, a rematch of their 2001 race when Whites defeated the then incumbent Lee. In Starkville, 28-year-old Parker Wiseman’s bested all comers in a well funded, grassroots oriented campaign, keeping Starkville for the Democrats after pushing out incumbent mayor Dan Camp in the Democratic Primary. Democrats describe Wiseman as a rising star in the party.

Republicans earned wins in the open seats for mayor in Tupelo and Meridian. Both were Republican seats but targeted by Democrats with significant resources. Jack Reed, Jr. took close to 70 percent of the vote in Tupelo. Barely had the ballots been counted before Republicans began speculating whether Reed would follow in his father’s footsteps and look at a future gubernatorial run.

Cheri Barry became Meridian’s first female mayor by defeating Democrat Percy Bland with just fewer than 300 votes. Four-term Republican Mayor John Robert Smith did not seek re-election.

On the Coast, former Democratic Governor William Winter took the stage at swearing-in ceremony and praised new Republican Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel saying, “I’m a George Schloegel Democrat and as far as I’m concerned we’re on the same team.”

Meanwhile, new Pascagoula Republican Mayor Robbie Maxwell took to heart the political axiom, “you either run scared or you run unopposed.” No one qualified against him. After effectively winning the election on the qualifying deadline day, he did still politic and reached out to voters; but his was strictly a positive campaign.

In 2008, Joel Gill campaigned as the Democratic nominee against Republican Gregg Harper for Mississippi’s Third Congressional District seat vacated by retiring Congressman Chip Pickering. Gill, an alderman-at-large for the town of Pickens and cattleman by trade in Holmes County (not in the Third District) ran on the slogan, “All Beef, No Bull.” Gill did not win his congressional campaign, but this year voters elected him Mayor of Pickens in a nonpartisan election. Three-term mayor Jonathan Moore did not seek reelection.

Voters in Greenwood disappointed Congressman Bennie Thompson by electing independent Carolyn McAdams over incumbent Democrat Sheriel Perkins. Thompson campaigned for Perkins telling voters they needed to reelect the incumbent to set “Greenwood free again” and if they wanted to stop the hospital from continuing to lay off employees and close wards, they needed to keep the same leadership. Trying to sell change and incumbency at the same time reminds me of what Pappy O’Daniel told his son in “O Brother Where Art Thou” when he suggested that maybe they should get some of that “reform”: “How we gonna run reform when we’re the damn incumbent?”

A third independent candidate in the race, Curressia Brown, was disqualified and removed from the ballot, which Thompson praised while accusing Brown of only being in the race to split the black vote. Perkins and Brown are black; McAdams is white. Thompson said, “There was somebody else in this race, but, you know, God don’t like ugly, and with prayer and good lawyers, we can work wonders, and we can even get bad folk off the ballot.” McAdams win follows another campaign axiom, “all politics is local.”

Race also made the news in the election in Philadelphia, but not in a divisive way. In a town that is 55 percent white, James A. Young, a Pentecostal minister and former county supervisor, defeated incumbent three-term mayor Rayburn Waddell to become the first African-American mayor. The New York Times, CNN, and other national news outlets reported on this story contrasting Young’s election against the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” civil rights murders in Neshoba County.

Brian Perry
Madison County Journal