Both candidates said they’d have preferred someone else run for the city’s top office.
Republican candidate Fred Pitts, 70, City Council president, said he wouldn’t have decided to seek the city’s highest elected office if the current mayor, Jack Reed Jr., had run for re-election.
Democratic candidate Jason Shelton, 36, an attorney, also said he wouldn’t have considered leading City Hall if Reed wanted a second term.
In fact, Shelton said he asked about a dozen people he thought would make great mayors and received the same response each time. He says they suggested he run for mayor.
While each of two men weren’t their own first choice for Tupelo’s next mayor, they’ll will spend the next two and a half months before the June 4 general election trying to convince voters why one deserves it over the other. Each has arguments to support his candidacy, but they share many ideas for Tupelo.
Both candidates speak fondly of the “Tupelo spirit,” the can-do attitude for the city that has traditionally caused envy from civic leaders in other communities. The idea of speaking positively of Tupelo and finding solutions to the city’s challenges to help it improve is part of both men’s attitude and approach.
Both men also see quality-of-life issues in the city as key to separating it from other areas locally and throughout the state and region. They both say they understand the importance of the quality of public schools to the community.
Data from the 2010 Census shows Tupelo has had an increased proportion of lower-income residents, which impacts schools and neighborhoods. Both Pitts and Shelton said more should be done to retain and attract middle-income families in the city.
Neither man speaks much about political party while discussing seeking the office of mayor, while both seem to have been active in their respective political leanings.
While substantive differences between Pitts and Shelton seem nuanced, they don’t have problems drawing distinctions between each other and will spend months explaining them to voters.
Pitts said he offers tested leadership. He points to his record as a businessman in the private sector and as City Council president for each year of his four-year term. With a Pitts administration, the Jackson native and longtime Tupelo resident said he knows how City Hall works and won’t have any lag time learning the process as an effective city executive.
Shelton said he offers an outsider’s perspective that can add new ideas and approaches to solving challenges facing Tupelo.
One contrast is that Pitts is nearly twice Shelton’s age.
Shelton, who graduated from Mississippi State University after only two and a half years and finished course work at Ole Miss law school in two years, has always been a little precocious. In discussing the age gap between the two men, he pointed out that Teddy Roosevelt began his first term as U.S. president at age 42.
“I believe that I have the education and experience necessary to be a great mayor for our wonderful city,” he said.
Pitts said he doesn’t think age between the two men should be an issue; however, he said his experience of 40 years in the business world, managing dozens of people and nearly four years of shaping city policy make him a better candidate.
“Remember, 70 is the new 50,” he said. “I’m in good health.”
While neither candidate has a primary opponent for the May 7 election, both continue to stay visible in public by shaking hands, handing out yard signs, buttons and cards. Both candidates open campaign headquarters on Main Street this week.
“Whether you have a primary opponent or not, it’s a short election season to meet as many voters as possible,” Shelton said.