Wednesday, March 8, 2017 6:00 PM
The municipal elections most cities and towns in Mississippi hold this year can be as contentious as statewide races, and when it comes to everyday life, more important. An exhaustive look at all municipalities would be too extensive, but here is a snapshot of several of the races.
Some candidates across the state found a reprieve from the hectic campaigns when no one qualified against them. Mayors in Gulfport (Republican Billy Hewes), Olive Branch (Republican Scott Phillips), Clinton (Republican Phil Fisher), Flowood (independent Gary Rhoads) and Picayune (Republican Ed Pinero) face no challenges to re-election. In the open seat for Oxford mayor, Democrat Robyn Tannehill won her first term as mayor when no one qualified to run against her.
A number of legislators are running in municipal races. Senator John Horhn (D) is making another run for mayor in Jackson.
He joins a field of sixteen candidates, most of whom are in the Democratic Primary and include the incumbent Tony Yarber and Chokwe Antar Lumumba who finished second to Yarber in the last election and whose father served as mayor before Yarber.
Republican Representative Toby Barker filed as an independent for mayor of Hattiesburg against incumbent Democrat Johnny DuPree. Political gadfly Shawn O’Hara (who once attempted to run for nearly every office on the ballot simultaneously) also filed as an independent. His sometimes Reform Party cohort Catherine Starr is challenging DuPree in the Democratic Primary, as is online political watchdog Tom Garmon.
Republican Representative Alex Monsour qualified for alderman in Vicksburg’s South Ward. Because an alderman is also in the legislative branch of government (unlike mayor which is the executive branch), were Monsour to win he could serve both in the municipal government and the legislature. Were Horhn or Barker to win, they would have to resign their legislative seats before taking office.
Former state senator Gloria Williamson (D) has filed to run for mayor of Philadelphia.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler will see a rematch from 2013 against John Bell Crosby, a former Madison Supervisor. She defeated Crosby four years ago with nearly 80 percent of the vote. This year Matt Armstrong, a businessman and ex-son-in-law of former U.S. Senator Trent Lott, will join Butler and Crosby in the Republican Primary.
In Ridgeland, Mayor Gene McGee faces a Republican Primary challenge from Patton Ford. Ford’s mother, Jill Ford, unsuccessfully ran for supervisor last year.
Meridian Mayor Percy Bland is seeking a second term and is being challenged in the Democratic Primary by Allen Shute. Current city councilman Dustin Markham is running as an independent, frequent candidate William Compton is the Republican nominee and Mariner Durant is running for mayor on the Libertarian Party ticket. (Other Libertarians on the municipal ballots this year include Corinthian Sanders for Jackson mayor, and Meridian Ward 5 candidate Charles Kimbrough.)
The open seat for Starkville mayor will be decided in the Democratic Primary between Johnny Moore, Damion Poe and Lynn Spruill.
Republican Dane Maxwell, who served as state director for President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign, is running for mayor of Pascagoula, a position once held by his father. He faces independent Lazaro J. Rovira and Democrat Jenafur Gurley in the general election.
Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite is seeking a second term with challenges in the Republican Primary from Tommy Henley and James Weifenbach. Republican incumbent Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer also will see a primary challenge with Michael Guice.
Biloxi Mayor FoFo Gillich (R) is seeking reelection and will face Jess Kennedy in the Republican Primary; Sugar Stallings is running as a Democrat.
In Tupelo, first-term mayor Jason Shelton (D) faces a challenge in the Democratic Primary from Candice Knowles. A third Democrat, Bridgett Shelly announced her plans to withdraw.
The Republican challenging him, Steven Parker, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal he thought Shelton had done a great job and his concern was that Shelton might not win his primary race. Had Shelton not faced a primary, Parker said he probably would not have run.
Municipal primaries will be held on May 2. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, voters return to the polls for a run-off between the top two candidates on May 16. The general election (featuring party nominees and independents) is on June 6. Most (but not all) Mississippi municipalities have their elections this year for mayor and council/aldermen; some elect other local offices as well.
Finally, D’Lo Mayor John Henry Berry has something other than a campaign on his mind. UPtv picked up a reality television show featuring him and the folks in D’Lo – “Small Town Big Mayor” – and aired a pilot last year. This week, filming for a full season begins in Simpson County. Here’s a spoiler alert: there won’t be an episode featuring his campaign. He is unopposed for a third term.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.