Many Mississippi cities holding elections Tuesday

OCEAN SPRINGS — The race for mayor of Ocean Springs may be too close to call.

First-term Mayor Connie Moran, a Democrat, faces a well financed challenge from political newcomer Republican Scott Walker.

The Ocean Springs mayoral election is among dozens on Tuesday’s general election ballot. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. The new four-year municipal terms begin July 6.

Among the elections are open mayoral offices in Jackson, Gulfport, Tupelo and Meridian.

In Ocean Springs, Walker says he has knocked on more than 8,000 doors since the campaign started. Among the campaign slogans of the longtime aide to and protege of former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott is: “A mayor you can be proud of.”

This past week, Gov. Haley Barbour campaigned for Walker.

Moran says her biggest accomplishment over the past four years is the progress of Ocean Springs’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Both candidates have pushed property tax reform, lower insurance rates and more businesses as their main campaign objectives.

In Jackson, former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., a Democrat, will face a Republican and four independent candidates in Tuesday’s election. Johnson served two terms as mayor of the capital city before being unseated by former television executive Frank Melton in 2005.

Melton came in a distant third in the crowded May 5 Democratic primary. He died two days later. Johnson defeated city councilman Marshand Crisler in a runoff to win the Democratic nomination.

In Meridian, Republican Cheri Barry and Democrat Percy Bland are competing to succeed John Robert Smith, who did not seek re-election after being mayor since 1993.

Whoever wins will make history. Bland would be the first African-American to run the town, Barry, the first woman.

Barry said she would, among other things, repair roads and bad feelings. Bland is the former business owner, a former substitute teacher and, until this year, the CEO of the Key Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Bland came to Meridian six years ago to open an insurance agency after seven years in Canton, where he ran human resources and marketing for the Carmichael Family Health Center.

In Vicksburg, independent incumbent Mayor Laurence Leyens faces Democratic challenger Paul Winfield, who defeated three opponents in the Democratic primary. Leyens was first elected in 2001.

Leyens is running on his record of economic development and, he said, “clean” and “open” government. A political newcomer, Winfield said his mission is also “to bring people together.”

In Oxford, after eight years of municipal activism that led to major change in the city, the city government is expected, under a new mayor, to focus on fiscal conservatism.

Democrat George “Pat” Patterson and Republican E.K. “Ken” McCullough meet Tuesday’s election. Incumbent Richard Howorth declined to run for a third term.

During Howorth’s tenure, the city leaders emphasized historic preservation, banned smoking in public spaces and opened a city-county sports park, among other achievements.

During the campaign, McCullough and Patterson have focused on money matters. McCullough has pledged not to raise taxes if he is elected. Patterson has not made the same promise but said any tax increase would be “the last bullet in my gun.”

In other mayoral races:

— In Biloxi, incumbent A.J. Holloway faces Democrat Jesse Kennedy Jr.

— In Starkville, Republican Marnita Henderson meets lawyer Parker Wiseman, a Democrat. Incumbent Dan Camp lost an re-election bid in the Democratic primary.

— In Picayune, state Sen. Ezell Lee, a Democrat, faces Republican Ed Pinero Jr.

— In Bay St. Louis, Democrat Les Fillingame goes against Republican Lisa Cowand and independent Tad Black. Mayor Eddie Favre did not seek re-election.

— In Moss Point, Democratic Alderwoman Aneice Liddell and independents Jerry Redmond and Grady Bryant square off. Mayor Xavier Bishop did not run again.

— In Gulfport, retired banker George Schloegel faces former public works director Clyde Williams. Brent Warr, first-term Republican mayor, did not seek re-election after he and his wife Laura were charged in a federal fraud case linked to Hurricane Katrina. They have pleaded not guilty.

— In Tupelo, Democrat Doyce Deas faces Republican Jack Reed Jr. Current Mayor Ed Neelly did not seek re-election.

— In Southaven, Republican incumbent Greg Davis faces independent Edward Sutliffe and Democrat William Forrester.

— In Olive Branch, incumbent Sam Rikard goes against independent Randy Smith and Democrat Dale Bradshaw.

Greenville, McComb and Natchez are among the cities not having elections this year.

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Contributing to this report: WLOX-TV, The Clarion-Ledger, WTOK-TV, The Sun Herald, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, The Meridian Star, Vicksburg Post, The Mississippi Press.

The Associated Press