By NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo voters embraced Jason Shelton’s campaign vision for “traditional spirit, new energy” Tuesday in handing him a decisive victory over Fred Pitts.
Shelton is the first Democrat to be elected mayor since the late Mayor James C. Caldwell’s 1981-1985 term. But while a Democrat’s win in Tupelo is an against-the-odds story, it can’t be the defining marker of this election moving forward.
Tupelo has too much work to do to break into partisan camps in city politics the next four years. The citywide results demonstrate that Shelton’s support crossed party, economic and racial lines, and that’s how Tupelo needs to approach the new term – as a city seeking unity and consensus, not beset by factionalism and division.
Pitts, a longtime business owner, Ward 2 City Council member and City Council president, put his experience and civic involvement on the line as the centerpiece of his campaign. While voters chose another path, Pitts is owed thanks and appreciation for his years of public service and for helping to focus the city’s attention on problems it was too long unwilling to confront.
The switch in mayoral party affiliation is similar to the somewhat unexpected election in 1973 of the late Clyde Whitaker, the city’s first GOP mayor, who defeated 20-year Democratic incumbent, the late James L. Ballard. Like Shelton, Whitaker was 37 when elected.
The sky didn’t fall with that change, rather the city and its leaders, regardless of party affiliation, continued a unifying, nonpartisan focus on issues and opportunities particular to Tupelo.
Shelton, like Whitaker, has no prior electoral experience, and he has an opportunity to lead Tupelo in following its own progressive drumbeat without the distracting diversion of hyperpartisanship that is so evident in federal and state governments.
Pitts was generous and gracious in his concession remarks Tuesday night, pledging his continuing city involvement.
Tupelo’s elected political leadership has worked cooperatively and to great benefit with private sector leadership for the past 65 years – an era of exceptional growth, increasing prosperity and successful innovation.
New challenges to growth, residential attractiveness and neighborhood strength call for continuing innovation and investment. Open-minded discussion and compromise must remain part of the civic vocabulary.
Tupelo’s success has been emulated by other Mississippi municipalities, and their successes now challenge Tupelo to create the next, better method and level – as has been the record since the end of World War II.