Winds of change swept through Tupelo’s politics in this year’s municipal elections, ultimately returning only two incumbent City Council members – Ward 4’s Nettie Davis and Ward 6’s Mike Bryan – to City Hall, and placed political newcomer, Jack Reed, Jr., in the mayor’s office to replace Ed Neelly, who did not run for a second term.
Change was aided by the retirements of Ward 1 Councilman Dick Hill and Ward 3 Councilman Smith Heavner.
In the longer term, the face of governance may have been reshaped more than anything by U.S. District Judge Mike Mills’ ruling that Tupelo’s two at-large council seats violated the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition of diluting minority voting strength.
The two at-large seats were written into the city’s adoption of the mayor-council form of government in 1989, creating a nine-member City Council, with seven wards and two at-large seats, all first filled by election in 1993.
No black candidates were ever elected to the at-large posts.
Until Tuesday night Tupelo had never elected more than one African-American council member in any term. That changed in a seven-ward configuration, with Davis winning re-election in Ward 4 and Willie Jennings winning in Ward 7. Jennings and incumbent Berdell Jones had tied in the 2005 election, which was decided by drawing a name from a dish, as allowed under state law.
Jennings won 64.17 percent of the vote against Jones on Tuesday.
At-large Councilwoman Doyce Deas, whose seat was abolished by the court order, ran for mayor, winning the Democratic nomination, but losing to Reed, a Republican.
Republican Carolyn Mauldin, a longtime figure in municipal politics, held the other at-large council seat, but she did not seek office.
Incumbents Bill Martin, Ward 5, and Thomas Bonds, Ward 2, were defeated in the Republican primary, replaced respectively by Jonny Davis and Fred Pitts, also both Republicans. Markel Whittington, a Republican, replaced Hill, a Republican, in Ward 1. James Newell, a Republican, won the Ward 3 race, succeeding Republican Heavner.
The new council will have five Republicans and two Democrats, but we continue to believe that partisanship in city governance is largely irrelevant and secondary to general community issues.
Every winning candidate in 2009 (and most who did not win) made cooperation and unity in City Hall a platform plank.
The current term, which ends July 6, has been among the most rancorous in memory, a sore topic among many citizens who know Tupelo’s consensus-building history.
The new term indeed offers opportunity to revitalize Tupelo’s progressive spirit.
NEMS Daily Journal