By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – More than 200 people arrived at the BancorpSouth Conference Center early Friday morning ready to hear from two men who want to run the city for the next four years.
The decision voters make on June 4 will help determine the city’s priorities and policies at a time when citizens worry about deteriorating neighborhoods and retention and recruitment of middle-class families.
Jason Shelton, 36, Democrat and attorney, and Fred Pitts, 70, Republican, businessman and Ward 2 councilman, spoke to the crowd of business, community and elected leaders at the Community Development Foundation’s monthly “First Friday” breakfast.
Their contrasts remained mostly in style, not substance.
Both candidates support keeping taxes low in the city and finding ways to improve public schools. They also said they wanted to improve decaying neighborhoods, with Shelton saying the focus needed to be on incentives for private investment and Pitts contending the city must use public funds wisely to “reinvest” in redevelopment.
The biggest difference between the candidates comes in style and experience.
Shelton casts himself as a more energetic candidate who can usher in the next generation of city leadership. While not directly bringing up the candidates’ ages, he often discusses the need for more energy in city hall.
“We have to be able to relate with and work with the people who want to be here,” Shelton told the crowd.
Pitts, the City Council president, touted his leadership and experience as strong advantages that would help his mayoral administration. He sees himself as continuing the priorities of the current council and Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who decided not to seek re-election.
Responding to questions about efforts to retain and attract middle-class residents in the city, Pitts said he has a record that shows his intentions.
“If you’ve paid attention to the news in the last four years, that’s what we’ve been doing,” he said.
Pitts lists the city’s decision to build a new $11 million aquatics center in east Tupleo and neighborhood redevelopment along west Jackson Street as examples the city has invested in the community.
“Anyone will tell you the city is better off than it was four years ago,” he said.
While the two candidates do not face opponents in the May 7 primary election, they both seem tireless in attending public events and speaking to individuals.
Many people listening to the two candidates speak had already decided who would get their vote. Some wore stickers supporting the Democrat and Republican.
Jesse Bandre said he planned to vote for Pitts, his second choice.
“I’m happy with the way things are now,” he said. “I wish Jack Reed would stay in office.”
Scattered in the crowd, a few people listened with an open mind. Wesley Webb, owner of Mossy Oak Properties of Tupelo, was one of them.
“I feel like both candidates have good ideas,” he said.