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On The Campaign Trail – 2013

election 2013 logoBy Jeff Clark
Twitter/Vine @thejeffclark

With three weeks left until the May 7 primary election, it was a week filled with twists and turns and bad tempers and some general ill will between candidates and their supporters.
Things finally became interesting in the Ward 5 race as candidate Kenneth McFarland did not show up for the Lowndes County League of Voters Political Forum. His opponent, incumbent Democrat Kabir Karriem, did make an appearance and answered questions chosen by moderator Scott Colom. McFarland sent me an email that said he was unable to attend the forum because of a prior commitment with his church.
That McFarland was a no-show at the event really was not a big deal until the recent turn of events between McFarland and one of the event’s organizers, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks. During Monday’s meeting of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Board of Directors, board member Mark Castleberry suggested McFarland and other community volunteers could be possible organizers for a Juneteenth Festival. McFarland said he had talked with some people, including Castleberry, about keeping the festival going. But with organizers making plans for the festival to continue, McFarland may have made an enemy with the highly influential Brooks. Will Brooks use his political influence to sway Ward 5 voters from voting for McFarland? Is McFarland even a threat to the House of Karriem in this Game of Thrones? Only time will tell.
After laying low for a few days, Republican mayoral candidate Glenn Lautzenhiser was back in full force this week. Lautzenhiser had a strong presence at the voter’s forum, speaking strongly against raising taxes and supporting annexation. I had a conversation with the longtime Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees member about the possibility of the CMSD asking for a mill increase in Fiscal Year 2014. Lautzenhiser said the board was not considering a mill increase and he would definitely not support one if it were requested.
Independent mayoral candidate Bo Jarrett didn’t have much to say at the forum. He mainly agreed with Lautzenhiser and incumbent Robert Smith on all of the questions asked by WCBI’s Steve Rogers. I did, however, hear that he has a cool, old school VW van called the “Mayor Bus.” This is something I can get behind and I look forward to seeing it — hopefully not on the back of one of his tow trucks.
But Smith, while having a decent run at the forum, may have set himself back a few steps after he publicly chastised Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box during Tuesday’s city council meeting. The bickering was over Box’s request for a permit to place some National Day of Prayer banners around town. According to Building Inspector Kenny Wiegel, banners may not be placed on the public right of way. This is seemingly no big deal and it should have been the end of it. But Smith said Box said “the Mayor said we can’t put up the banners” and Box said he was only stating what Wiegel told him. And it was back and fourth and fourth and back , as Smith just couldn’t let it go and wouldn’t let it go. Box said he had asked for the item to be removed from the agenda, but it was not. Sources at City Hall said the two engaged in a shouting match Monday behind closed doors in Smith’s office. I had on Wedsnaday a conversation with Smith and he said Box had made the accusations in public and he was clearing his name and it had nothing to do with Lautzenhiser, who is also on the prayer committee.
In Ward 6, Republican challenger and Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board member Whirllie Byrd may have caught a case of the old “foot in the mouth” syndrome. At Monday’s CVB meeting, Byrd, during a heated discussion said, “We put a lot of money in Pilgrimage and it is primarily for the white folks.” This could have an affect on the “white folks” voters in Ward 6, the city’s majority white ward. Byrd isn’t entirely to blame for this statement as the media has helped foster an attitude of “black festivals” regarding Juneteenth and the Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival. I admit I have played my part in creating the imagery of “black festivals.” But I have discussed this with some festival organizers, we shook hands and I’ve moved on. But I’m not  a Republican candidate in a Ward 6 race against an incumbent Republican candidate. Byrd cannot afford to polarize her voters.
Ward 4 candidates Maurice Webber, Marty Turner and incumbent Fred Stewart delivered more of the same at the forum — Webber has a clear vision of what he would like to accomplish, Turner was charming and charismatic and Stewart was affable and reserved. Turner called me this week about some work that’s going on in Ward 4. Turner said there was ditches that have been in need of repair since the straight line winds of 2002. But lo and behold, three weeks before the election, Public Works crews have been cleaning them up. I can’t verify if this is true or not, but there is work going on in Memphis Town and some residents said it was long overdue.
Things got a little more interesting in Ward 2 when the East Columbus Detention Pond became a hot topic. Incumbent Democrat Joseph Mickens brought up the detention pond, and little else, at a Ward 2 meeting Monday night at the East Columbus Gym. Police Chief Selvain McQueen, who was one of numerous department heads in attendance, spoke briefly about crime. But the detention pond was what was clearly on his mind. Mickens said he had received several phone calls about it. The audience, which about 10 in attendance, had little to say — except for Republican candidate Susan Mackay and her daughter, Amanda. Oh, by the way, the detention pond was a project started by the late Ward 2 Councilman Doug Mackay, who was also Susan’s husband and Amanda’s father. To use the pet project of a deceased councilman against his wife in an election is good old fashioned, dirty politics. Mackay retaliated by bringing the issue before the city council Tuesday and she told me Mickens wouldn’t even accept the information package she tried to hand him. According to Mickens, the pond isn’t working correctly and he and Smith and City Engineer Kevin Stafford are looking to do something different with the pond. Stafford basically said the pond was working fine at the council meeting.
I appreciate the Lowndes County League of Voters for hosting their forum. Rogers and Colom did an excellent job of moderating and asking the tough questions. On a day that had seen a tornado in Noxubee County, I thought the 100 or so people in attendance was a descent showing.
“I was pleased with the turnout,” Brooks said by phone Friday. “We had more than 100 people and that wasn’t bad considering the weather. In this day and age, it is getting harder and harder to get people to show up to political events.”
And in the Ward 1 race, Gene Taylor is still chilling out.


1 comment

  1. George

    What happen to “CLOPAC”? Have they disbanded. I was looking forward to their Forum. Why has no one else had a Forum? I see not many people were at any of the political debates. Remember – you get what you vote (or don’t vote) for.

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