Fiscal issues define Oxford mayor's race

OXFORD – After eight years of municipal activism that led to major change in the city, Oxford’s city government will, under a new mayor, likely focus for the next couple of years on fiscal conservatism.
Democrat George “Pat” Patterson, 54, and Republican E.K. “Ken” McCullough, 47, will meet in the June 2 mayoral election. Incumbent Richard Howorth declined to run for a third term.
During Howorth’s tenure, the city leaders introduced historic preservation, banned smoking in public spaces and opened a city-county sports park, among other achievements.
But during this campaign, the focus has been on money matters.
McCullough, a longtime regional manager for Nielsen Media, signed a pledge not to raise taxes if he is elected.
Patterson, a businessman who has built a reputation as a fiscal watchdog in two terms on the Board of Aldermen, has not made the same promise but said any tax increase would be “the last bullet in my gun.”
Other key issues in the race include city relations with the University of Mississippi and Lafayette County.
“The synergy of the three of us working closely far outweighs what we can do as individuals,” McCullough said.
“I’ve spoken with Lloyd Oliphant, who’s the president of the Board of Supervisors, and I know some of the other gentlemen on that board. I think we could work closely with those men.”
As evidence that both relationships bear fruit, Patterson pointed to the recent extension of the city-university fire protection, the opening of the city-county sports complex, and response from county firefighters after an April fire next door to his own downtown store.
“Within 45 minutes of when we had a major blaze here, for all of our fighting and arguing, there were two of (the county’s) newest pumpers backing in to cover the city,” he said. “I guess it’s like siblings: We’ll fight like hell in the basement, but get outside and you’d better not let anybody mess with us.”
Common ground
Both mayoral candidates are longtime Oxonians. McCullough was born in Jackson but moved with his family to Oxford as a preschooler. Patterson’s family has been in Oxford for generations.
Both men graduated from Oxford High School, earned degrees at the University of Mississippi and have extensive business experience.
Patterson is founder and a director of Oxford-University Bank and owns University Sporting Goods and James Food Center along with investment properties. McCullough, a trader and a property investor, left a two-decade job earlier this year as a manager with Nielsen Media to stay in Oxford.
Each admits being impatient about achieving results.
“I’m ‘Load up and let’s go, boys – line up and let’s play,'” Patterson said. “I’m used to going out and, if there’s a problem, I’m fixing it.”
McCullough said he sometimes pushes too hard as well.
“When I set my mind to something, I give it 100 percent, and I don’t take the pedal off the gas until I get it done,” he said. “It’s a weakness, but it’s also a positive.”
Despite some similarities, McCullough and Patterson clearly don’t see eye to eye.
Besides his time on the Board of Aldermen, Patterson’s civic involvement includes service on the Tourism Council and the boards of directors of CrimeStoppers, Downtown Council, Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Foundation, and the Oxford-Lafayette Heritage Foundation, in addition to being a Deputy U.S. Marshal for 20 years. With such a history, he questions McCullough’s commitment to the community.
“He ‘loves Oxford,’ but has he volunteered for the school board, the Park Commission, FNC Park, the Tourism Council?” Patterson said. “I bring knowledge to city government. I bring a lifetime of involvement in public and city affairs.”
McCullough cites extensive service and leadership at his church, including annual international mission trips on which he has helped build school and church edifices.
“I’d say one of my biggest contributions is that I really gave up my job with Nielsen in order to stay here,” he added. “I think that says volumes about what I think about Oxford.”
McCullough says Patterson plans to raise taxes.
“He’s claiming we have the highest tax rate in the state. That’s absolutely untrue,” Patterson said. “I’m going to spend your tax dollars carefully and thoughtfully, just as I have in the past.”

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal