By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Both Tupelo mayoral candidates explained their personal strengths and visions for the city during a political debate Friday less than two weeks from the general election.
Hosted by the local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, Republican Fred Pitts and Democrat Jason Shelton each tried to sway undecided voters for the June 4 general election as they answered questions from a moderator and several submitted by audience members.
With Mayor Jack Reed Jr. not seeking re-election, Pitts and Shelton want to lead Tupelo during a period when community leaders worry about the city’s limited population growth and hope to find ways to attract more middle-income families.
Pitts, 70, current Ward 2 councilman and longtime business owner and city resident, said his experience in business and as a father and grandfather help him understand what many residents experience and support through shared family values and desire for increases in quality of life.
Pitts continued to tout his experience as City Council president for each of the four years serving with Reed as mayor.
“I can step in the mayor’s office without needing any training,” he said. “We want to continue to advance Tupelo and that can’t be done without an experienced, conservative leader.”
Shelton, 37, a Tupelo native and attorney, said he fits the bill for attracting more residents closer to his age to the city and has a passion for leading Tupelo into the future.
“I’m running for mayor because I’m the right candidate for the most important issue facing the city,” Shelton said. “Ultimately, this race is about who you want to work with for the next four years.”
The candidates continued to go back and forth on issues from neighborhood redevelopment to accomplishments each would like to achieve by the end of his term.
Pitts said he wanted to continue many of the same initiatives created under Reed’s administration, including helping encourage redevelopment of decaying city neighborhoods. He said the national and local economies required city government to help spur developers to help improve neighborhoods that have lost some of their luster.
In the West Jackson Street area, the city has begun buying blighted property with intentions to raze apartments and houses on it and sell the property to developers at a price that allows them to sell homes for middle-class residents at reasonable prices.
“We have to continue to use seed money to help bring back our neighborhoods,” Pitts said.
Shelton, who considers himself a more fiscally conservative candidate, said he prefers encouraging neighborhood redevelopment through tax credits to property owners.
With this debate the candidates have only one other scheduled before the general election. Both Pitts and Shelton tried to explain their insight, experience and passion for leading a city they love.
Shelton looked at the audience, some of whom had known him as a young boy, and asked for their confidence in him to make Tupelo continue its legacy as a forward-thinking community.
“I want to be your partner in making Tupelo the best place it can be.”
Pitts encouraged voters to compare the two candidates and make the best decision.
“I think my passion, effort, work experience will be what takes this city in the right direction.”