Mayoral candidates sharpen messages in waning days

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – In just more than a week, Fred Pitts can allow his broken foot to mend and Jason Shelton can skip a day shaving.
But until votes are counted on June 4, both candidates are making winning votes their top priority as Tupelo citizens weigh their selection for the city’s next mayor.
When Shelton qualified to run for mayor, he said he has had to get used to shaving each morning as he prepares to meet the public. He knows voters expect mayoral candidates to look the part and will make it a habit if elected to serve the city for a four-year term.
“Sometimes it feels like the campaign has been going on for a year,” he said a Friday mayoral debate.
Pitts, a longtime businessman, continues to overcome a more painful challenge as he seeks the city’s highest office. Months ago, he fell and broke his right foot. When he opened his campaign headquarters, Pitts wore a boot to stabilize his foot and joked about not running for office.
“I’m just going to walk,” he deadpanned.
Now, Pitts campaigns without the boot and says he’ll decide whether to have surgery on it after the election.
“Right now, I just try not to favor one foot as I’m out in public,” he said.
Regardless of personal inconveniences, both men remain focused on sharpening their campaign messages and defining differences between each other.
With the campaign’s end in sight, the men continue to draw contrasts in person and through different mediums. On his campaign’s Facebook page, Pitts displays a photo of him with his wife, Carol, and grandchildren.
In recent weeks, he has tried to emphasize his “family values” and his role as a father and grandfather. He said that’s an important side of him that voters should know.
“You need to have these values that you’ve experienced and not just heard about,” he said. “I think life experiences are critical to being a good leader.”
Shelton, when asked if not having a wife or kids is a liability in the mayor’s race, said the single most important quality is having passion for the city.
“The mayor of Tupelo has got to have a passion for making the city better,” he said. “I want Tupelo to be a better place for when I do have children and when they grow up to go to Tupelo public schools.”
Shelton said his opponent’s comments on family values are designed to distract citizens from real issues facing their lives.
“Tupelo isn’t suffering from a lack of values,” Shelton said. “We are suffering from a lack of home ownership and I am the right candidate to relate with the young, working families who need to call Tupelo home.”
As the candidates continue to trade comments back and forth, political watchers beyond the city limits look to the race with interest. The chairman of the state GOP has identified Tupelo’s mayoral race as a top priority for the state party, while Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves formally endorsed Pitts in a brief visit to Tupelo last week.
While Pitts runs on the GOP ticket, Shelton has tried to sway local Republicans to vote for him instead. While his campaign held a fundraiser for his Republican supporters, Shelton even snagged an endorsement from Republican councilman Jim Newell, who called the attorney the most fiscally conservative candidate in the race for mayor.
However, today Pitts gained a formal endorsement from incumbent Republican Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who did not seek re-election.
“I believe that, if elected, he will carry on the good things we were able to start this term,” Reed wrote in a letter to the editor published in today’s Daily Journal.
Responding to Reed’s endorsement, Shelton said this is an example of the two men not always agreeing.
“Mayor Reed and I don’t agree on spending,” Shelton said. “But we do agree that recruiting working families to Tupelo is a top priority.”
robbie.ward@journalinc.com