Election notebook: Mayoral candidates thought of politics early

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

As the Tupelo city government reporter for the Daily Journal, I plan to cover city council and mayoral elections fairly and accurately, offering voters information to make an informed decision when they cast ballots in the primary and general election.
As part of the coverage, I’ll have a weekly column here with election information and observations that may not appear in other political coverage. In this space, you might find out little known nuggets about candidates or scheduled political gatherings for the coming week.
For instance, mark your calendars for Friday for one of their first public appearance of the two mayoral candidates, Republican Fred Pitts and Democrat Jason Shelton, when they will speak at the 7 a.m. Community Development Foundation’s monthly First Friday gathering.
For those who aren’t early risers, you’ll have plenty of time to see the candidate in person.
So far, I’ve visited mostly with mayoral candidates and their supporters will soon meet with city council candidates. A few of the council races should be interesting. In Ward 3, the two Republicans facing off in the primary live almost across the street from each other.
On the campaign trail so far, here’s what I’ve learned:
• Both Pitts and Shelton seemed to have a future of politics suggested early in life. During the sixth grade, Shelton’s political ambition began to shine when he was elected home room president at Lawhon School in East Tupelo. For longtime Tupelo resident Pitts, he seemed destined to serve in local politics when his high school classmates voted him as most likely to be mayor… of Jackson.
• With one term serving on the City Council and decades in business, Pitts, 70, touts himself as the candidate with experience in the two-man race against Shelton, 36. However, Pitts’ wife, Carol, seems to have more political experience than both candidates combined. She served as phone bank coordinator for Thad Cochran’s first campaign for Senate, worked in campaigns for Jack Reed Sr.’s gubernatorial attempt and Clyde Whitaker’s mayoral race.
Shelton tries to use not having held elected office to his benefit, saying the city needs a fresh perspective.
• While Shelton has yet to secure an endorsement from the Democratic candidate for mayor in 2009, Doyce Deas, the East Tupelo resident has picked up support from one of the former Republican candidates.
One of Elvis’ cousins and Republican candidate for mayor during the last city election, James R. Presley, appeared at Shelton’s campaign headquarters grand opening to offer his support. When Presley lost in the Republican primary in 2009, he endorsed Republican Jack Reed Jr., who won and decided not to seek reelection.
• In local elections, traditional thinking says political party labels mean less. Carol Pitts said she and her mayoral candidate husband have even voted in the Democratic primary. They supported Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson when he ran as a Democrat.
“We’ll vote for a good Democrat,” Mrs. Pitts said.
Of course, Sheriff Johnson now runs on the Republican ticket.
ROBBIE WARD covers Tupelo and Lee County governments. Contact him at robbie.ward@journalinc.com.