Vines saga splits public opinion

Published 4:48 pm Sunday, May 20, 2007

It’s a good campaign name — Binkey — and it looks good on the bumper of a car.

Just drive the streets in Natchez, Adams County and even, oddly enough, Concordia Parish, and you’ll spot the red and blue bumper sticker bearing the name from election-years past.

Circuit Clerk M.L. “Binkey” Vines has supporters, and plenty of them.

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For years now, Vines has been cited in annual county audits. Last fall, embezzlement indictments to the tune of $200,000 were handed down. Two weeks ago Vines admitted his own partial guilt, but will be allowed to run again through what seems to many like some sort of legal loophole.

The support is still there. And many residents say Vines is deserving of your vote.

“He has a deep feeling of concern for those less fortunate than others,” Adams County resident Hollis Allred said. “He’s willing to lend a helping hand any time and any place that he can.”

Allred said he has known Vines since the circuit clerk was a boy.

“He used to play with my children years ago,” Allred said.

These days, Vines goes out of his way to help people, Allred said.

He helps needy families find a place to live, helps people find jobs and buys groceries for those who can’t afford them, Allred said.

In recent years, Allred said, Vines has worked with him to deliver food to the hungry.

“At one time, we fed several hundred people on a Thanksgiving,” Allred said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a person with any more deep concern for the wellbeing of people than him.”

The Rev. Victor Stewart, pastor at the Parkview Church of God, said he had similar experiences with Vines.

“With his (Saturday morning) radio program, he’s always raising funds for anybody needing help with groceries, who can’t pay their utilities, and families who struggle and need help,” Stewart said. “I think that’s what gives him such a big following.”

Every Sunday, Vines picks up children who don’t have a way to get to church and takes them to services, Stewart said.

Every Thanksgiving, Vines has a Thanksgiving meal for the community, Stewart said.

Two Christmases ago, Stewart said he went with Vines through neighborhoods and helped distribute groceries.

“The response was wonderful,” Stewart said. “People were overwhelmed by it. They would hug you, and some would cry or weep.”

Vines is a politician, but he is concerned about people even when he’s not running for re-election, supporter Mary Hines said.

“He doesn’t’ just see people when the time comes for elections,” Hines said. “He always is there for you when you need him.”

Vines visits various churches, and he sees those who are sick, she said.

“There are so many things he has done for a lot of people,” she said. “He tries to help everybody — not only one race of people, but he tries to help everybody.”

But Vines’ good deeds haven’t stuck with everybody. Adams County resident Thomas E. Young used to be one of Vines’ supporters, he said. Young said he has known Vines for years and helped him with his last campaign.

But he won’t be helping him run for the circuit clerk’s office this year, Young said.

“He’s destroyed his support,” Young said.

When Vines pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement, Young said believed him. Young said he believed Vines used some of that money to encourage people to vote for him in the past.

“He threw money at (people) like he was grass-seeding the lawn,” Young said. “I personally have seen him throw money around like there’s no end to it and wondered where he got it.”

Vines’ recent decision to terminate his only two black employees was the deciding factor for the local NAACP chapter president Alfred Hunter.

“I really think what Binkey Vines did is a slap in the face,” Hunter said. “I don’t think it was right, especially to the black community who was the one who partially put him in office.”

Vines’ personnel decision came because his office is financially strained, Vines said. Vines has denied allegations of racism.

Hunter said Vines always inspired confidence in people.

“He made a lot of promises, promises he ain’t kept,” Hunter said. “Promises about what he was going to do.”

Hunter said he and others in the community were disappointed by the recent turn of events.

“Everybody knew him and thought he would have been the person to do what’s right,” Hunter said. “Everybody accepted him because they thought he would be a person that would do right in helping everybody. Now, there are a lot of disappointed people.”