By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – One of Tupelo’s mayoral candidates believes his “proven” leadership makes him the natural choice to lead City Hall, while the other believes he’s the right person for this “critical” time for the community.
Fred Pitts, 70 – the loving family man with more experience than you can shake a stick at. Jason Shelton, 37 – the young fellow who can bring more fun and excitement to the city while convincing more people his age to move here. That’s how they style themselves.
Both candidates claim to be the most fiscally conservative in the race.
Throughout Tuesday’s mayoral debate – the last before voters cast ballots to pick a new mayor on Tuesday – the candidates emphasized many of their same talking points from throughout the campaign before an audience of about 75 at the BancorpSouth Arena’s conference area. Hosted by the Lee County Get Out the Vote Coalition, both candidates fielded questions from local media, including this Daily Journal reporter.
With Shelton the Democrat stressing his lifelong roots in Tupelo and his plans to never leave, the older Republican Pitts emphasized loving the city longer than his opponent.
“I’ve been in Tupelo longer than Mr. Shelton has been alive,” he said.
Vying to succeed Mayor Jack Reed Jr., both candidates appeared a little edgier than in previous appearances together. They seemed to welcome their last appearance together before their organizations shift gears to mobilize their supporters to vote next week.
While they have different approaches, both candidates say their top priority is attracting and retaining more young, middle-income families to Tupelo.
Shelton, an attorney, said he wanted to help encourage more events and nightlife in the city, while longtime businessman Pitts said his younger opponent needed to open his eyes to Tupelo’s diversity of events.
“If you can’t find something fun to do in Tupelo, you’ve got your head in the wrong place,” Pitts said. “You can stay busy on date night or any other night here.”
Looking across at the audience, Shelton said Pitts’ own comments should lead people to vote to elect the first Democrat mayor in Tupelo in about three decades.
“With all deference, I believe he truly believes what he’s saying and that’s why I truly need to be mayor,” Shelton said.
After the debate, both candidates seemed focused on the same objective until polls close on election day.
“I’m going to be talking to people and getting them out to vote,” Pitts said.
Tuesday night’s debate will be shown on Comcast’s government access channel on Thursday at 6 p.m. and Monday at 3 p.m.