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Introducing Ward 2 Candidates: Special Election Nov. 17

The special election to fill the Ward 2 Jackson City Council seat of Melvin Priester Jr., who stepped down to focus on his law career, is on Nov. 17, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Six candidates are vying for the post: Angelique Lee, Tyrone Lewis, James Paige, Thomas Warren Powell, Funmilayo Bannerman Tilden and Melinda Greenfield Todd. The Jackson Free Press asked all of them the same questions in interviews. The answers are edited for space here with more at jfp.ms/Ward2election. Absentee voting for the special election is underway at city hall, ending at 5 p.m. on Nov. 14.

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Angelique Lee

Angelique Lee

What motivates you to serve?

Well, I've been a servant all of my life. Ever since I grew up, I've always been in Ward 2, my family has a business on Farish Street, and I've always given to those neighborhood kids. I've always been surrounded by children.

I went into teaching—a ministry of service because you generally don't go into teaching for the money. Then, when my daughter became of school age, I started serving on her PTO board and moved my way up to PTO president and raised $100,000 for her school by knocking on doors in the community and businesses and giving back in that capacity. Then, I've run after-school, STEM programs. I have always been in the area of service.

Now that my dad is in his 80s—and he also lived in the ward, and my children all live in the ward, I have a 4-year-old and a 12-year-old—I think it is important for someone that has a voice and resources and the capacity to get things done to run for office. So I decided to step up, run for office, serve the constituents of Ward 2, listen to their needs, be accessible and get what they need done. This is something that I have always done and is just another step.

What prepared you for this position?

I have been lobbying for almost a decade with the Mississippi Legislature for public education, higher education and teachers. I have built strong relationships, business relationships, parent-teacher organization relationships, community-building relationships, so I feel I am prepared.

I feel I have the resources, the connections, and I have built strong relationships with the community to be able to get things done. I have also managed a lot of political campaigns to get pro-public education candidates elected; I ran Jennifer Riley-Collins' campaign (for Mississippi attorney general) with her. That was statewide. And also, Willie Simmons' (campaign) in the central district. So, I have met people across the state, built strong relationships. I have been inspired by those candidates to step up and do it for myself and for my community.

What are the top three problems facing Jackson and your ward?

They intersect. We both have the same issues, the city of Jackson and our ward. The number-one issue will be crime. We need safe spaces for our citizens and constituents to live in. We need safe spaces for our businesses to move into. We can't expect economic development to grow without a safe space.

I would like to have policing in hotspots. I would like to bring some targeted prevention programs with our youth in conjunction with our community leaders, school leaders, and church leaders and youth, and get some targeted programming that will prevent them from going into the life of crime.

The second thing I will say is the infrastructure. Not only do we need safe roads and bridges for our constituents to travel on, our school buses to travel on, ambulances and fire trucks, but infrastructure also includes broadband access. Especially with COVID-19 and our children learning virtually, we need access to wifi and broadband and also for our seniors who are doing health screening.

Infrastructure is very important to me. That also includes some areas in our ward that have a lot of issues with flooding. I will say the key area of focus and issue that we have that intersect with the city and our ward is economic development. As our wards experienced white flight, a lot of our businesses went away, and now we have a lot of debilitated buildings, plots, homes; they are just sitting there vacant.

I would like to initiate a buy-the-block program in our ward; I will also like to give businesses the opportunity to come in, especially around the Lake Hico area, now that we see that some of those industries are moving out, and focus on Highway 49 and bring economic development over in that area. And I also like to see economic development coming out of the road entrance from I-55. I will like to utilize my business relationships to drive new businesses, black businesses back into our ward.

What are the solutions?

For crime, I would like to see more policing on the ground. I would like to see more boots on the ground, especially in hotspots. I know after a certain hour, our youths and our seniors are scared to go by certain gas stations because they know there are a lot of activities going on that shouldn't be going on. So I will like more policing in those hotshots; I would like increased lighting. I would like to develop neighborhood watch associations, get together and start community policing.

For economic development, I will utilize my relationships with businesses and legislators to try to drive business back into our ward. We are the most affluent African American ward in the city, and it needs to reflect it with businesses. Right now, we have a lot of businesses that are vacant and debilitated and a lot of blight in our area. And I would like to see that happen, and that would be a curb to crime as well.

I also like to do some targeted intervention programs with our youth in conjunction with our community leaders, church leaders, school leaders, parents that would curb crime. Then as we are thinking about workforce development, getting ready for work and being productive citizens.

What resolutions or legal actions would you champion?

Speed bumps. Right now, one of the things we are seeing is a lot of speeding around Callaway High School and in our neighborhood; by now, it is not safe for our seniors to walk, for our children to go out and ride their bikes.

I will also like to initiate more laws to counter the illegal dumping that I am seeing in a lot of our neighborhoods, the back of them. They are being used as dumpsters, people leaving their couches and mattresses. So I will like to do something to enforce or let the penalty be harsher for that.

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Tyrone Lewis

Tyrone Lewis

What motivates you to serve?

I consider myself a public servant. I am a native of Jackson. I was born here. All my life has been in Jackson; all of my education from elementary school to Headstart to college has been right here in the city of Jackson. I am not one of those ones that left to go to college elsewhere. I am a graduate of Jackson State University. I went to Lanier High School, 833 West Maple Street.

I went to Brinkley Junior High School. I am a Headstart baby, so all of my education has been spent right here in the city limits of Jackson.

Jackson is what I consider a home of people that raised me in the village concept. My parents did a good job of raising six kids. I am a second of six, and along with my biological parents, I have a lot of other "parents" that assisted my parents in rearing me, so I came up in that village concept. I've always been around people that are servers, that have a servant's heart, so it was instilled in me to serve others. So I grew up as a server.

What prepared you for this position?

My childhood of watching my parents, watching everybody around my parents, my teachers that embraced me throughout the years, my community, the churches that I attended were involved in this whole process.

The motivation came from all of those combined together and wanting to give back to those that have prepared me and given to me to get me into a position to come back and serve them in their elder ages because right now they are not in the capacity to move out of the city of Jackson. So they need those people that they helped mold to come back and help them, and that's my purpose.

What are the top three problems facing Jackson and your ward?

Number one's going to be crime. Me being a 35-year veteran of law enforcement, and a product of the Jackson Police Department and a product of the Hinds County sheriff's office, the two top law-enforcement entities in the state of Mississippi, it's going to be crime.

I have seen crime reach an all-time high. Today as we speak, we are probably at 112 murders or homicides. I've never seen anything like that before. So people are scared. They are afraid, along with the pandemic that they are afraid of, they are afraid to come out of their houses. They are afraid to sit on their pouches. They are afraid to go to the grocery store. We need to address that.

I have a great relationship with the men and women of the Jackson Police Department. I have a great relationship with the men and women of the Jackson Fire Department; I have a great relationship with all the city employees because I am a former employee. That's number one on the list.

Number two is economic development. We have businesses that want to open in Jackson, but because of the crime issues that we have, they are afraid that they won't be successful in opening up a business in the city of Jackson. In order for that to happen, we have to reduce the crime element in order to attract businesses to our community.

With that being said, if we can attract businesses in our community when we reduce crime, we can have a supporting tax base, and with that supporting tax base, not only can we take care of our men and women of the Jackson Police Department and our city services, we can deal with our infrastructure, which is number three.

We have a crumbling and a failing infrastructure that is in bad shape because we don't have the revenue or the tax base to support it because we've had businesses moving out for several reasons.

What are solutions?

Number one, dealing with crime, we are going to have to support our men and women of law enforcement. We can no longer ignore that the city needs to be able to fund the police department. So we can attract better officers, better quality officers, they need to be paid better. You can't recruit if you can't compete with other cities that have better salaries and better benefits than you do. You are the capital city. So my goal is to be a cheerleader and supporter for law enforcement in order to get it beefed back up to the manpower that they need.

I understand that we are very short, and dealing with crime first is the number-one solution to solving the next two issues that we have.

What resolutions or legal actions would you champion?

There are a lot of city ordinances that are outdated for the city of Jackson that need to be revisited, and I don't have any one in particular right now. I want to be able to get in and go to the table along with the other colleagues as well as come back to the citizens of Ward 2, to see what concerns they have, because I am the voice for Ward 2, I am a champion for Ward 2, I am the representative for Ward 2. So my first obligation is to see what their concerns are, what they will like to see changed.

I have my own opinions as to what needs to be changed. I would want to hear from them first. I will bring to the table what I suggest as well, and work with the community; we can see what initiatives that we will prioritize so we all can be satisfied because there are so many ordinances that are on the books that are outdated, that need to be changed. That can help our community. But I want to start with getting those recommendations from the citizens of Ward 2 first. I think it would help the entire city of Jackson.

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James Paige

James Paige

What motivates you to serve?

First of all, I am not a new face in Jackson, and I am not a new face running for this seat here. I am a very passionate man about Jackson, I truly believe in Jackson, I've been in Jackson all my life, I am a product of Jackson public-school system, I am a product of Jackson State, I am a product of Jackson Police Department. For me to see these institutions operating at the level they are operating in, I feel like, with my experience, business experience, and my law enforcement experience, that I could really take something to the council, to bring a different look to it.

We can bring a businessman to the table there and an experienced law enforcement officer to the table. I think that what I have to say and my input, and my ability to negotiate with people will make a difference.

What prepared you for this position?

First of all, my passion for Jackson, number one, and my experience as a businessman, my experience as a law enforcement officer and my desire to serve. I think you've got to have the knowledge of what regular, everyday people are going through before you can help them, and I have both of these.

I have had the business experience, I've worked with people, I have participated in summer youth job programs, and I have been on the law enforcement end of it where I have had to walk the neighborhoods. So, I know the people here. I have been in this area all my life. And so I know the needs of the neighborhoods. I do believe that I have some plans, that I can address some of those needs.

What are the top three problems facing Jackson and your ward?

Crime, youths and development. Let's take crime; when you are trying to grow a city, crime is always going to probably be at the top of the list because you've got to have your crimes under control in order to attract businesses and people to your city.

From a law-enforcement eye, I see that there are too many illegal guns on the street, and most of these illegal guns end up in the hands of our youth. A lot of our youth problems are stemming from the City deciding not to invest in our young people. There is no more summer jobs program; they are not investing in parks and recreation. (The office of the mayor did not immediately respond to a factcheck request). These are things that we need to keep our young people in a constructive environment, but the City has stopped investing.

So me being old enough to see how the youth were coming out when the city was investing and what the youth are looking like right now when the city is not investing, it's not good. Across the summer, every teenager in Jackson used to have a summer job, all the public schools were opened, and all the little kids were not left at home. They were sent to the school for older kids in the summer youth programs to look over them, keep them instructed. None of these things are happening now, so you know, I just think that we got to put resources back into our young people.

I don't have to tell people how (too many of) the youths are doing now; they can turn on the news and see it. They are very young people, their lives ruined, but you know, you've got to put the investment in to get something back out of it. And I see the back end at the job that I work now down at the federal courthouse, and it's not good. I see the broken hearts, the crying mothers, the crying grandmothers, the crying fathers because their kids are going off for a very long time, for doing something that possibly if he had been in a constructive environment he might not end up in that wrong environment.

The two that I described—the crime and the youth—play into development. If the schools are not performing, if the city has high crime, no one will want to come here and set up a business, no one will want to come here and set up residence. And you know if we have to go outside of Jackson to a decent park to exercise, something is wrong with that. So youth and crimes are very important for there to be development.

We've got some golden opportunities. I think Jackson is set up to have more potential than any city in the southeast of the United States because of its geographical location and natural resources that have not been tapped or developed. For example, we have the Pearl River running through Jackson; nothing has been done to that river in terms of development; they've got two or three plans on the table, but they have not acted on these ideas, plans for 20 years.

Pertaining to Ward 2, we have a lake up there, Lake Hico. Entergy is going in a different direction in terms of making their energy, so they no longer need that lake for a cooling pond. I guess they have turned the pump off because the lake is drying up. So that to me would be a prime place to develop a super, super park, walking trail, water sport, it will cover the whole gamut. It's sitting right in the middle of Ward 2. Most people that live in Ward 2 have never seen that lake because of the trees and stuff growing around it; you really can't see it.

It's a very beautiful piece of property, a very large piece of property. I think with the right development that it will spur other developments in the neighborhood, and property value will go up but left unattended, it is going to go just in the opposite direction.

What are the solutions?

First of all, the mayor and the council got to get behind the police department. In terms of tackling these unlawful guns, we can set up a task force, zeroing on getting guns off the street. It's going to be a heavy-handed approach, so they've got to have the mayor and the council behind them. But it could be done. We can bring down the illegal guns in the city, a lot of them coming through different outlets. We could shut those outlets down, maybe like the pawnshops and things like that.

The city's got to get back into summer youth programs, different types of programs that give the kids a chance to learn about the city government and stuff like the city youth council and different things like that. All those things have just faded away.

(Development) is a tough one. But if we work on crime and youth, development will be a lot easier than trying to entice people to come into an area where the crime is high.

In Ward 2, we have sort of a special flavor here. I think that we can actually make it happen because we just had Dollar General move in. We put special specs on them, and they applied, built the store and stuff the way we wanted it. And that was a very, very successful operation there. It's only two, three minutes from my house. It's a joy for me to jump in my truck and run around the corner and get some of those things that I needed when I used to have to run to go all the way to 55. So for development, that is the start, and by the success of Dollar General, I think other people may look a little bit closer at Ward 2.

What resolutions or legal actions would you champion?

I am always going to come back to youth and crime. I think that we probably need to pass some type of resolution to (restart) the summer youth program. Make it mandated that we ought to do so much in terms of youth participation. Something that I am looking at is how can we regulate the way guns are handled in Jackson because it's a problem. And those are the things that keep me up at night.

I will try to get together with the other council members to come up with a department that will assist people in new startup businesses here in Jackson. Most of the time, people just don't know how to start a business, and when they start, they run into so many roadblocks. If we have a department that will be giving crash courses on how to start a business, I think that we may entice more development because from time to time. I have people call me and say, "I am almost ready to open, but the City said I need this, and I don't think I need it. What can I do?"

If we had a department set up to deal with those things before they get to that point, I think we will be a lot more successful with the new startup small businesses. (The City of Jackson offers business advisory via the Business Development section of the Department of Planning and Development).

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Thomas Warren Powell

Thomas Warren Powell

What motivates you to serve?

Well, I've been a tax attorney in this area for 30 plus years; I'm a resident of Jackson. So I know the problems with the city, and I want to try to address them and help the city get back on track.

What prepared you for this position?

My educational background, being a juris doctorate degree holder with a specialty doctorate to teach paralegal technology for Hinds Community College on Medgar Evers. Also, being involved in community projects through my membership in organizations. I am already involved in a pilot program called Woody's Landscaping and painting to teach youth to work and have self-worth. I live in the heart of the city and know the issues of the city.

What are the top three problems facing Jackson and your ward?

Well, I would say crime would be an issue; the roads are being worked on right now, which is good. In terms of economic development, you know, bringing some type of businesses into the community or where the city grants money for people to come in and demolish houses and neighborhoods and that type of thing.

What are the solutions?

I would like to see if the neighborhoods would be allowed to find people who have those qualifications, that could be to clean up their own neighborhoods, you know, things like that.

If you need a contractor or you need an electrician, or you need someone to operate a bulldozer, allow the neighborhoods to be it. See if they have someone from that neighborhood who has a license and is bonded and qualified. And I think they'll do a better job cleaning up the neighborhoods and getting rid of all these abandoned houses, cleaning up these abandoned lots.

Well, I know everybody always says it, but it's going to have to be more police visibility in high-crime areas.

What resolutions or legal actions would you champion?

At this point, I don't know the answer to that yet. I would have to look at all the issues, evaluate them and see what's most important and what can be done. I want the proper allocation of the public resources to go to the public, to the streets, to the parks, to the libraries, or wherever it's supposed to go; it needs to get there.

For example, we need more computer rooms where kids can get on a computer, where they could play chess, where they could study, where they could feel safe. And the first thing we could do is fix up all the libraries around the city so that they're not leaking and that they're functioning, so at least the kids will have a starting point.

Once I figure out which one's the most feasible that we can accomplish, then I'm going to ask businesses or foundations or find the money from wherever it can be found. But I'm sure there are people out there who want this to happen and make sure that the money is getting to the right places. You know, if someone wants to donate to fix a library, they want to make sure that money makes it to the library to be fixed.

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Funmilayo Bannerman Tilden

Funmilayo Bannerman Tilden

What motivates you to serve?

I've been in this ward 43 years, and over the course of that time, I have seen it decline from thriving businesses to vacant buildings and debilitated homes, And I want to work hard to change that around and restore this area to its former glory.

What prepared you for this position?

The community. I live in this community; I work in this community, I worship in this community. I am an educator, so I deal with families that live in this community every day. I see the needs of families, see the needs of people and see the needs of the area.

What are the top three problems facing Jackson and your ward?

Crime, infrastructure and the absence of businesses. In my ward, I will say, the absence of businesses, infrastructure and a dwindling condition overall.

With crime, I think there is a problem with gun control, and my family has been a victim of gun violence. ...

I think there is a problem with people-control. I think there are too many children running around with nothing to do, and they have too much freedom, and they have too much access to guns and drugs and alcohol and things of that nature.

And I believe that if we can turn that around at the youngest age possible, we can get them to direct their lives in a different direction, which makes them make better choices and stay away from getting in trouble, and causing trouble.

With the businesses, I believe that there should be some type of initiative to bring small business owners back into the community, except that they must use vacant buildings that are already existing. Instead of new buildings or going into new construction, I think that they should use the buildings that we have here that are sitting here vacant and abandoned.

With problems with infrastructure, that's going to take some research to find feasible ways to rectify the situation. I understand that repairing infrastructure will take a lot of dollars, a lot of manpower. Still, I think that there are some ways that we could find to feasibly rectify the whole situation without having to dig the whole city up.

What are the solutions?

There would have to be some significant research done to see what's cost-effective. When I talk about infrastructure, I am talking about sewer lines and water lines that are bursting. I think that we have flooding in some areas; those are some of the issues that the citizens have talked to me about. And I think that is going to take a community effort to get that done. But the city has to show some kind of good faith, some kind of wanting to get involved and help citizens living in these areas; if not, they are going to lose the people that we still have living here.

What resolutions or legal actions would you champion?

Right off-hand, I don't have any that I would want to pursue other than the initiative on small businesses. I think that with small businesses, you bring people into the community to spend money with those businesses, and a lot of time, people want to live close to the businesses.

That is one of the initiatives that I really have on my heart to get done. Another thing is to bring a grocery store into the heart of Ward 2. That is something that I want to see done, and I want to see more housing development done. Those are some of the initiatives that I will like to bring to the forefront.

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Melinda Greenfield Todd

Melinda Greenfield Todd

What motivates you to serve?

I have always wanted to run for city council from way back early in the '90s. ... I have been in the ward for 44 years, and I am motivated to help make it better.

What prepared you for this position?

My experience with the community, working in the community, walking in the schools, faith-based organizations in my ward, those experiences working on health projects, and my background in public health education have prepared me to work with the public.

What are the top three problems facing Jackson and your ward?

Crime, infrastructure and community unity. Crime in the city of Jackson has increased, especially with the coronavirus, white flight, lack of jobs, and employment opportunities for our young people. Getting back to youth employment opportunities in the area, the health, making sure that our young people are viable; they are able to do what they need to do in the community.

For infrastructure, that's been a long-term city issue. So, working on things like bond issues and others to help us provide the funds needed to fix our infrastructure in our area. Lastly, working together as a ward, we'll have a better ward for our constituents.

What are the solutions?

Working with our ward, we'll have youth activities and youth employment to keep our young people busy and viable. We need more funds in our district, funds to help with our schools. Infrastructure: We are going to need more tax-based money to do that.

What resolutions or legal actions would you champion?

Working with our mayor or other administrative leaders, we'll have to look at bond issues to generate more revenue for our ward. That will be one. Another of the issues will be looking back at our curfew guidelines (which she supports) for our city, for our young people, and also providing youth jobs which really are already written into the budget and making sure that the mayor using initiative in working with our youth again flourishes. There was a curfew issue in the book that was never really resolved and working with our young people to be in the right place at the right time.

See all answers at jfp.ms/ward2election. Email city reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected].

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