Forum ripe with incumbent bashing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2000

Opposition candidates took their shots at the current Natchez administration Friday at a mayoral forum hosted by the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce. Incumbent Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown, Robert F. Costa, John &uot;Pulley Bone&uot; Pullen, F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith and Phillip &uot;Bucket&uot; West all spoke at the forum.

&uot;I can’t stand another four years of a Hitler-like administration,&uot; said Pullen, who owns a downtown restaurant. &uot;I will have to close my business in October (if the current administration continues).&uot;

Pullen urged those in attendance to vote for anyone but Brown.

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Costa, who said he rated the current administration a &uot;zero&uot; in growth, economic development and opportunity, said his and Pullen’s platforms are similar &uot;even if we’re different in our approach.&uot;

&uot;Power corrupts,&uot; Costa said. &uot;We are suffering from absolute corruption.&uot;

Smith said the current administration has paralleled the largest economic growth in the nation. He asked why industries have not located in Natchez when many seem to be looking to locate in the Southeast.

And West, who didn’t seem to attack the administration directly, said he is running to change the direction of the city.

&uot;I think the majority of the people believe we are not headed in the right direction,&uot; he said.

Brown defended his administration’s fiscal responsibility and efforts to attract industries.

&uot;We’re in business, folks,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re in good, solid, sound business.&uot;

Brown said his administration has been able to develop relationships in government and industry.

&uot;None of these projects happen overnight,&uot; he said. &uot;All of those relationships don’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication.&uot;

The format for the forum gave candidates a chance to introduce themselves, answer a question about economic development and a general question, and give closing remarks.

Pullen said he would develop a videotape about Natchez to use as a recruiting tool along with a committee of eight residents to help him attract industry.

&uot;If necessary I’ll kiss their naked rear end on the street&uot; to get industry to come to Natchez, he said.

Costa said Natchez needs to provide money for a professional industry recruiter.

&uot;How do we hold back funding for the EDA?&uot;&160;Costa said. &uot;Let’s get someone who’s a pro, give them some money and say, ‘Get us some industry.’&uot;

Brown said Natchez was able to use tourism to fill the void when the oil industry declined.

&uot;We’ve tried to involve everyone in the community in tourism,&uot; he said, adding that Natchez has developed ethnic tourism programs and hired an ethnic tourism director.

He said the city also wants to use recreation and higher education as economic development tools.

West said the city and county need to work together to form a strong Economic Development Authority, and he criticized the city for being &uot;hesitant&uot; to fund the EDA.

Smith said he believes industries get the idea that they can come to Natchez but that they have to do it &uot;our way.&uot;

&uot;The garden clubs put Natchez on the map,&uot; he said. &uot;These same people are telling me we need to be more flexible with industries. They are not against economic development and bringing industry here, and I am not either.&uot;

Candidates also discussed three of the city’s largest projects — the completed Natchez Visitor Reception Center, the pending convention center and the proposed St. Catherine Village.

Pullen, who calls the visitors center &uot;Mississippi’s largest public restroom,&uot; said he would sell or lease the facility if he became mayor.

The visitors center, which opened in 1998, was paid for with federal and state grant money. The city houses its tourism department there, and the National Park Service and Mississippi Welcome Center lease office space there.

Smith said he would try to combine the visitors center with the new convention center.

Smith also said he would eliminate &uot;government-subsidized retail competition,&uot; referring to the bookstore and logo shop that are located at the visitors center.

And Costa said he disapproved of the city’s building a convention center without a parking lot.

&uot;What’s going to happen when we’re fortunate enough to get a convention and the (Confederate) pageant is going on?&uot; he said.

Smith said he does not think the city can afford the estimated $16 million cost of the St. Catherine sports complex, which would be located next to Natchez High School.

But Brown said the city has &uot;$5.5 million on a string&uot; — referring to potential outside financial assistance — for the sports complex. And he said the National Park Service has given the city a letter of intent to lease the land, an agreement solid enough to allow the city to sublet part of the land.