The road to the Jackson mayor’s seat goes through, well, the roads.
The state of the capital city’s infrastructure dominated a debate Friday at Mississippi College School of Law, which the League of Women Voters and The Clarion-Ledger sponsored. Six men — there are no women running for the Democratic nomination this time —took the stage, spending a good deal of the first hour discussing plans for improving infrastructure, including streets and the water system.
Jackson’s potholes are the stuff of legend. Over the years, several programs have been adopted to address the problem, including an additional 1-percent sales tax on certain purchases and, this year, the development of a capitol complex that would help improve infrastructure in the heart of the city.
Still, frustration about blown tires remains.
Robert Graham, a Hinds County supervisor who represents parts of north Jackson, said he would pave three miles of streets every week if elected.
“We need to be in a hurry to get the streets paved and get the infrastructure done to make sure the streets are paved once and for all,” Graham said.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba, an attorney and son of the late former mayor, said he would leverage the proceeds from the 1 percent tax — which currently raises about $12 million per year — with additional bonds and grants to raise $500 million and turn “infrastructure into a new economic frontier.”
In response to a question about race relations, Sen. John Horhn, who touts his relationships in state government quipped: “These potholes don’t care if you’re young or old, black or white. The question is who can best lead this city. Who has the best skill set? Who can best bring people together?”
Mayor Tony Yarber, who has led Jackson since he defeated the younger Lumumba in a 2014 special election, says paving streets isn’t a panacea because water and sewer infrastructure underneath the streets is also crumbling. Yarber describes Graham’s plans to pave three miles of road per week unrealistic because the city cannot afford to repave at that rate.
“We have to challenge plans that sound good versus what’s actually possible,” Yarber said.
Sidney Gladney, a former city code enforcement officer, said he would restructure the city’s debt obligations to free up cash for capital projects around the city.
Horhn said the city’s revenue collections from water and sewer service should improve.
“We’re losing money on something that used to be a cash cow for us. There’s no sense of urgency to address this,” Horhn said.
Another big talking point was crime in Jackson. Most candidates said reducing it should be a priority.
Lumumba said that crime is not unique to Jackson. Places with concentrated poverty tend to have higher crime rates, he said. Rather, the city should focus on economic development to provide jobs as an alternative to crime, he said.
Horhn described local jails as revolving doors. “We have to develop an intolerance to crime,” he said.
Yarber said he empathizes with the perception of a crime problem even though major crimes continue to decrease in the city.
“To the people who just got robbed the other day, the person who had their lawn mower stolen, it doesn’t matter if crime is down. It’s about how you feel,” Yarber said.
Ronnie Crudup Jr., whose father is the pastor of a powerful church in South Jackson, said he wants to invest in youth and improve the city’s relationship with Jackson Public Schools.
“I plan on being very involved in who’s going to be the next superintendent,” Crudup said, referring to the ongoing search for a permanent leader of JPS.
The Democratic primary takes place May 2. There are 10 candidates on the ballot.