Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Kenneth Swarts pulls out his big, white binder that he calls his "playbook" and begins to show off his vibrant campaign signs. He crafted the small signs from leftover Pizza Hut brownie boxes and his laminating machine, similar to the button on his shirt. The 60-year-old flips through the binder with pride and excitement in his voice, describing the work he has done in the community.
A red and blue convertible is in many of the photos. Swarts calls the car his mobile and official campaign office.
Allen Clark Swarts and Mary Jane Knight-Swarts adopted Swarts as a baby during a visit to Germany and brought him to Jackson. His father served 40 years in the military and is from "the other side" of Buffalo, N.Y. He was a public-relations specialist and photographer for a Jackson military base and a postal worker for 20 years.
The candidate's mother is from the Delta and got a degree from Louisiana State University in library science. She worked as a librarian at Central High School in downtown Jackson until it closed in 1977 and then transferred to Wingfield Elementary School as head librarian.
Swarts identifies himself as an "illegitimate kid," because his birth mom was German, and his dad was an Army man.
The candidate has lived in northeast Jackson since 1983. He met his wife of almost three years, Nancy Swarts, at Colonial Heights Church.
His children from an earlier marriage, Matthew and Melina Swarts, both live in Atlanta. Swarts says he purchased a wedding ring after he worked extra shifts during the winter from a lack of employees.
The Pizza Hut driver of nine years calls himself "The Good Samaritan," from his selfless labor in the community, whether it is for strangers or neighbors. Swarts raised his rough hands full of callouses and said: "You notice this. This is Jackson. I am Jackson. ... Jackson's in me, it's there."
Putting in 150 Percent
One day, Swarts says, he brought a homeless man to church, took him to lunch and then paid for a Super 8 Hotel room for him to sleep that night.
"What I do in north Jackson gives me training and thought for what can happen in south Jackson and west Jackson. I grew up where if you know something's got to be done, (you) do it," Swarts says.
"There have been sinkholes in the city, and all that I filled in. (The) most said thing to me is 'I see you all the time." Technically, my response is, 'That's because nobody wants to work.'"
Swarts said he will maybe become interested in managing people if elected mayor. "I'm not into management. Maybe as a mayor, yeah, I'll get into this thing, but right now there's things I can't do because I don't have the title 'mayor.' If you have the title ,then people will do something for you."
Starting at Home
"Education starts in the home. Don't pawn it off on the teachers 'cause they can't handle it. They got all these students to worry about. They can't try to teach every one of the kids," Swarts says. "If our kids in school are getting that better grade, we're gonna get better funding. The kid's education gonna be better. It's all gonna be better for everybody, then you're gonna have the higher education kids that are innovative."
"As for crime, crime begins at home. If you neglect your kids they're gonna go out and do something just to get your attention. It all boils down to the parents teaching the kids the right thing to do and spending the time with them," he says.
Swarts says Jackson's biggest challenges are not crime or education. He is concerned with the youth of Jackson.
"The biggest challenge is to get the parents motivated to teach the kids. ... If you get somebody to do something for you, you should reward 'em somehow. Some people just like a pat on the back or a handshake, that's all I really want," he says.
Swarts has strong opinions about infrastructure, and how it is used and treated. He compares the city to the human body to explain its weaknesses.
"Right now what's happening is, people leave their curbs all crappy ... or they mow the yard or churches have people mow the yard and they put their clippings out in the street," Swarts said.
"If your drain is full, it's just like your intestinal system. If you're stopped up, you feel bad, right? OK, but if you get that thing flowing great, then you're having a good day. You got your crap inside ya," he says.
"Well, that's what's happening in the city. You got your crap in the pipes."
Swarts promises that he will do what it takes to clean up the city's crap and its pipes, and later maybe the pearly gates.
"When I finish with the City of Jackson as mayor, and maybe God calls me up to polish the golden stones on the streets of Heaven or wherever he sends me, I'm gonna take care of it. Whether it's the up or down or in between," Swarts says.
The Independent candidate plans to appreciate Jackson residents with his budget. "All I want is $5 a week and an expense account, and the expense account is to appreciate others. I might not be there to actually put that (award) on you, but I want you to know that I'll send you some flowers 'cause ya know you did a good job, or I'll send you pizza, or I'll send you to Sal & Mookies, or something.
"(Restaurateur) Jeff Good knows me real well," he adds.
Swarts says that he wants to be mayor for the people. "Apparently there's so many people out there that are upset that said, 'So and so didn't do something. This didn't get done. That didn't get done.' Bring it to my attention, (and) I'll see what I can do," Swarts says. "I'm just saying that I think the city needs two mayors. I think we need Chokwe (Lumumba) as the legal part, and they need me as the street guy." Lumumba is the Democratic nominee for mayor.
Swarts shared that he decided to be an independent politician when he realized Republican and Democratic politician candidates are more monitored, not because of their political views.
"I'm not looking for funds. If you're a Republican or Democrat, you gotta fill out all these forms, you gotta do this. I just have to walk in and say, 'Hey, I'd like to be mayor, or I'd like to be so and so.'"
He also does not have to report his campaign donations and expenses, he says. "I don't have to put in a financial statement 'cause I don't accept funds. Not that I don't accept funds; it's just nobody's giving me $2 or $300 to do anything like that, or $500," Swarts says.
"I was asked, 'What're you gonna do your first day in office?' First day in office, I'll probably ask for a report of the salaries and job positions of those 2,500 city employees and make sure they're all at least doing 99-percent."
Swarts admits, though, that he may not win the mayor's race on June 6.
"The people in south Jackson and west Jackson they don't know me, and that's where Chokwe might win because they don't know me, (and) they don't know the love I have for the city, and they don't know the devotion I have."
Kenneth Swarts, 60
Education: Manhattan Academy (High School)
Employment: Pizza Hut driver/delivery for nine years
Political Experience: None
Family: Wife Nancy Swarts; daughter Melina Swarts; son Matthew Swarts