As the poorest state capital in the country, Jackson, Mississippi is rich in mayoral candidates for the upcoming primary tomorrow. Fourteen people (nine Democrats, four Independents, and one Republican) will challenge Jackson’s incumbent mayor, Democrat Frank Melton, as he pursues a bid for re-election. Among his top challengers are the former mayor, Harvey Johnson; Crisler Marshand, a current city councilman; and current Mississippi State Sen. John Hohrn.
Reducing crime, rehabilitating housing, recruiting businesses to the city, and repairing Jackson’s infrastructure are the top concerns for Jackson residents, says Leslie B. McLemore, president of the Jackson City Council, and professor of political science at Jackson State University.
“If you drive the streets of Jackson there are so many potholes, if you avoid one, you hit another,” Hohrn says.
Melton agrees that after two hurricanes and a tornado within the last five years, the streets should have been resurfaced sooner, but the budget did not allocate enough money for it and the large equipment used to remove hurricane debris exacerbated the problem, he says. Now, with $26 million from a bonding program, he is planning to pave all seven wards at the same time.
After winning the mayor’s office on a crime-busters platform, many critics say that Melton, the former director of the bureau of narcotics, has neglected everything except policing neighborhoods with his bodyguards.
“He really wants to be the chief of police. He rides around the city of Jackson with a gangster mentality and that is not appropriate for the city,” says McLemore, who will not endorse any candidate.
In fact, Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin, who endorses Crisler, says he resigned in April from his dual post as Jackson Police Chief because he could no longer align himself politically with Melton, reports the Clarion Ledger. Crisler also received an endorsement from Nina Holbrook, another top city administrator who resigned rather than support Melton.
Melton, 60, has seen his share of court problems this year. First he won a case against The Jackson Municipal Democratic Executive Committee who voted unanimously to remove him from the Democratic Ballot. In a separate incident, he is currently awaiting a federal retrial scheduled to begin May 11 where he was accused of violating the civil rights of a homeowner and her tenant when he ordered the destruction of their private residence in 2006. Melton called his alleged sledgehammer demolition of the property– which he considered a “crack house”– an “administrative mistake.”
At the time Melton said he was in the process of removing 700 homes from the city that were abandoned and being used for illicit behavior. Melton said that he received permission from the Environmental Protection Agency. “Out of 700, I made a mistake on one,” Melton says. He says he has built some 700 single-family homes in the city.