By Jeff Clark
It has been a busy week for the candidates as the primary election is less than a month away. The May primary will determine the councilmen elections in Wards 4, 5 and 6, with the races for mayor and Ward 2 councilman going the distance to the June 4 general election.
The Ward 4 candidates, incumbent Fred Stewart, Marty Turner and Maurice Webber, were the guests of honor at the final political forum hosted by the Columbus Exchange Club. The difference between these candidates was fairly remarkable from the charm and charisma of Turner, whose table guests included the influential Scott Colom, to the almost Libertarian rants of Webber and the, well, understated Stewart. What the candidates said, or didn’t say, was also quite varied.
Turner is a proponent of economic development and he said one of his goals is to help attract more businesses and retail outlets to Columbus. As a business owner, Turner, a native and resident of Memphis Town, could bring some business savvy to the council if elected. This, however, is something of a “good for the goose and gander” notion as it’s more a citywide goal as opposed to a ward goal. I appreciate anyone who is willing to work for the betterment of the residents of Columbus as opposed to being single-minded about his ward.
The enigmatic Webber proved to be something of a firecracker as he chastised the council for distributing the general obligation bond money for paving in individual wards as opposed to allowing City Engineer Kevin Stafford to determine what streets were a priority. Ward 2 candidate Susan Mackay, (R), was also critical of this move when she spoke at the forum in March. Webber criticized the council for not raising taxes this year strictly because it was an election year. He said the city should ask the Columbus Municipal School District not to raise the millage rate. Webber said this should be done as politely as possible. But after criticizing the council for not raising taxes, Webber then said one of his goals was to “lower taxes.” You can’t raise and lower taxes — you’re either in or you’re out. I look forward to hearing more from Webber at tonight’s League of Voters forum at the Municipal Complex (6 p.m.).
Stewart, the longest serving member of the Columbus City Council, was the last to speak. Stewart, who avoids controversy and basically votes in tandem with Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor and never opposes Mayor Robert Smith, didn’t have much to say other than he had served on the council for 16 years and during the almost two decades, he had been a part of some things such as the soccer complex and some street paving. This isn’t to imply Stewart is inept; he’s just a man of few words. And obviously, the people in his ward have kept him in office for several years so his popularity can’t be questioned.
My money in Ward 4, the city’s least populated ward, is for a runoff between Stewart and Turner. Webber, who said, “If you want to vote for a popularity contest, vote for one of (the other candidates),” may not quite be popular enough to win in a race that’s going to come down to charisma verses longevity.
Ward 6 candidates incumbent Vice Mayor Bill Gavin and Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board member Whirllie Byrd on Tuesday met for round two of their political sparring. At the monthly meeting of the Lowndes County Republican Women, Gavin and Byrd, both Republicans, lobbied for the votes and support of the influential conservative group. On hand to hear the stumping were Gavin’s fellow council conservative, Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, Caledonia mayoral candidate Bill Lawrence and his wife and CVB board member Rissa, Caledonia Councilwoman Brenda Willis and Ward 2 council candidate Susan Mackay. Glenn Lauzenhiser, who had earlier cancelled an appearance reading to children, was not present at the forum due to “family issues.” Lauzenhiser resigned from the Republican Executive Committee when he qualified for the election and was replaced by Bob Wilbur.
A longtime member of the LCRW, Byrd spoke first, emphasizing retail development, rain shelters for children and a contingency plan should the Columbus Air Force Base close. Gavin stuck to his platform: retail development, improving the look of Highway 45 North and cutting municipal spending. Byrd took a shot at Gavin’s oversized poster of his accomplishments as councilman.
“I like Bill’s fancy writing,” Byrd said, pointing to Gavin’s poster. “But Bill is only one vote. He did not do this by himself. I hope in four years I have a poster that says Whirllie initiated this and worked with the city council to make it happen.”
Gavin said he did not accomplish these things by himself.
“Of course I didn’t accomplish these things by myself,” Gavin said. “But I did play an important role in them. I met with a group recently that is going to bring a new restaurant to Columbus in early 2014. To say we need more retail is one thing; to bring it is another. It’s nice to have ideas, but you have to find away to pay for them.”
Get ready for Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Starbucks Ward 6 residents as this race may be about who can bring the beef to the city’s “business district.”
Byrd will be hosting a “meet and greet” today at the Best Western from 5-7 p.m. I hope this gives her enough time to wing it on over to the forum at the Municipal Complex. Perhaps she doesn’t want to listen to the other candidates for an hour before the Ward 6 showdown?
Mayor Smith, not candidate Smith, showed up to host his annual Mayor’s Unity Picnic at the Riverwalk. I commend Smith for this, as the picnic is an official Columbus Pilgrimage event and it receives a contribution of $3,000 from the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation. Smith is far too politically astute than to campaign at an event with his name attached. While candidates from other races used the opportunity to stump for votes, Smith wouldn’t allow candidates to help serve food or assist with the proceedings.
I haven’t heard much from Republican candidate Lauzenhiser this week, but that is likely to change with the League of Voters forum and other upcoming scheduled appearances. I had a brief conversation on Monday with independent candidate Bo Jarrett, who assured me he had been campaigning for more than a year. He confirmed some Republicans did ask him to step aside and make room for Lauzenhiser, but Jarrett said he had qualified before Lauzenhiser and he wasn’t going anywhere. Jarrett said we would sit down and talk when he’s elected mayor.
On Wednesday, I spoke with Smith who was returning from Clinton. He and some other city officials went to the Department of Revenue to gain a better understanding of the city’s shrinking tax base, particularly the decline in sales tax revenue. Smith and Webber are the only candidates mentioning taxes while Gavin has talked about cutting expenses.
Things took an interesting turn in the Ward 2 race over the weekend, which isn’t surprising. I had a candidate, that is not Mackay, tell me ” some of the black incumbents are worried about the whites winning.” The candidate said incumbent Democrat Joseph Mickens is at the helm of this movement by allegedly telling participants at the Mayor’s Unity Picnic “a white is going to win the election for mayor so they needed to keep him on the council so there would be a black majority.” In all fairness, I’m certain some of the white candidates are saying something similar if not much worse, but I haven’t been confronted with it — yet.
I spoke with Mickens on Tuesday and he denied the allegations.
“No — I didn’t say that,” Mickens said. “I’m with the Mayor (Smith).”
Mickens also said the Ward 2 residents meeting he had originally scheduled for tonight had been moved to 6:30 p.m. Monday at the East Columbus Gym.
This weekend’s return of Grilling on the River should be wide open for any and all candidates — for a price. According to Harvey Myrick, a volunteer with the event, no campaign signs will be allowed to be posted at the event.
“If the candidates want to set up their signs, they can pay $25 for a booth like the rest of our vendors,” Myrick said. “Otherwise, there will be no campaign signs at Grilling on the River.”
All is still quiet in the Ward 5 race.
As a reminder to the candidates, the first round of campaign finance reports are due to be filed by April 27. If you have received more than $200 in contributions, then get to filing.
According to Sec. of State Delbert Hoseman’s office, “Mississippi law requires that all candidates, their committees, and all other political committees of any kind, file campaign finance disclosure reports. These reports are called “Reports of Receipts and Disbursements.” Forms necessary for compliance with these laws are available from the Secretary of State’s Office or our website at www.sos.ms.gov or from your Municipal Clerk.”
The fine for not filing is $50 — per day not filed.