The Jackson mayoral debate Sunday between incumbent Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and former TV executive Frank Melton was about as clear a reflection of these two candidates as voters will see.
Johnson, an urban planner and two-term mayor, talked of programs and accomplishments that he says came about from knowledge of government and carrying out the processes needed for long-term change.
Melton, former CEO of WLBT-Channel 3 and former director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, talked of his ability to get things done and address quickly the problems that plague the city, such as crime, housing and suburban flight.
The debate, sponsored by The Clarion-Ledger, WJTV-Channel 12 and the League of Women Voters, explored some of the critical issues facing Jackson. Unfortunately, it provided more political drama than information.
On the No. 1 issue of crime, Johnson talked of his record on rebuilding the police department and continuing successful efforts to put more police on the force. Melton says there needs to be a leadership change and more attention to the issue that underlies most of the city’s problems.
But, it was clear that Johnson was more versed in government operations and had thought through policy. He criticized Melton for “slick talk” and his reliance on “45-second sound bites.” Melton countered that Johnson had been an “eight-year sound bite” and that he could “get more done in 45 seconds than the mayor could in eight years.”
Johnson was confident and kept Melton off guard, especially in questioning his record as MBN director and Melton’s failure to vote in past elections. As debates go, Johnson would have to have been given more points. He was knowledgeable and effectively attacked Melton’s weaknesses.
Melton was successful in portraying himself as more decisive and action-oriented, Johnson’s weak points.
So, voters can see the clear differences: Johnson is the competent, deliberate tortoise; Melton is the action-oriented, passionate hare. Actually, the city needs a little of both in its next mayor.
But, on May 3, Jackson voters must make a choice. Watch closely. Get ready to decide what kind of leadership Jackson needs for the next four years.
Clarion Ledger Editorial