JACKSON – Mississippi’s mayoral primaries Tuesday offer voters a wide range of choices, from an Elvis Presley cousin in Tupelo to a political newcomer who says, “I’m blind but I do have a vision for Biloxi.”
Jackson Mayor Frank Melton faces nine challengers in the Democratic primary, including former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., City Council member Marshand Crisler and state Sen. John Horhn.
The primary in the capital city comes a week before Melton and a former police bodyguard are set to stand trial for a second time on federal charges that they damaged a duplex Melton considered a crack house.
Party primary runoffs, where needed, will follow May 19 and the general elections on June 2. The new four-year municipal terms begin July 6.
The U.S. Justice Department, which monitors elections to ensure fairness to minorities, said it is sending election observers to four Mississippi cities on Tuesday. They are Cleveland, Como, Meridian and Sardis.
Gulfport’s first-term Republican mayor, Brent Warr, chose not to seek re-election after he and his wife, Laura, were charged in a federal fraud case linked to Hurricane Katrina home repair. The Warrs have pleaded not guilty.
In Gulfport’s Republican mayoral primary, former Hancock Bank president and CEO George Schloegel faces former Harrison County civil defense director Joe Spraggins. In the Democratic primary, Clyde Williams, who manages a limousine service, faces Brian Dean, who cleans portable toilets for a living.
In Biloxi, Mayor A.J. Holloway, in office since 1993, faces state Rep. Michael Janus in the Republican primary. Holloway defeated Janus in the GOP primaries in 1993 and 2001. The winner will face Democrat Jesse Kennedy Jr., a political newcomer who is blind, in the general election.
Kennedy said at a public forum last week that the city should stop auctioning property when people fail to pay taxes.
In Tupelo, Republican Mayor E.C. “Ed” Neelly III, is not seeking a second term. In the Democratic mayoral primary, businesswoman and City Council member Doyce Deas faces Kentrel Boyd, a motivational speaker who ran for mayor as a Republican in 2005. In the Republican primary, businessman Jack Reed Jr. faces James R. Presley, a machine shop manager who is a cousin of the late king of rock ‘n’ roll.
In Meridian, Republican Mayor John Robert Smith did not seek re-election after being in the office since 1993. The Democratic primary features insurance agent Percy Bland, high school history teacher William Bond Compton Jr., Lauderdale County supervisors Joe Norwood, and temporary-staffing business manager Casandra Sloan. The winner will face Republican Cheri Barry, who’s on leave from her job as executive director of the local American Red Cross.
In Starkville, Democratic incumbent Dan Camp faces alderman Matt Cox and attorney Parker Wiseman. The primary winner will face Republican Marnita Henderson, a political newcomer, in the general election.
In Vicksburg, former alderwoman Gertrude Young faces defense contract employee John Shorter, attorney Paul Winfield and convenience store owner Tommy Wright in the Democratic mayoral primary. The winner will face incumbent Laurence Leyens, an independent, in the general election. Leyens was first elected in 2001.
In Hattiesburg, Mayor Johnny DuPree, first elected in 2001, faces Shawn O’Hara in the Democratic primary. O’Hara has run unsuccessfully for several offices over the past two decades, from governor to U.S. senator to mayor.
Greenville, McComb and Natchez are among the cities not having elections this year.
Contributing to this report: The Clarion-Ledger, The Sun Herald, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Meridian Star, Starkville Daily News, Vicksburg Post and Hattiesburg American.
The Associated Press