Candidates talk jobs in front of packed house

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 11, 2008

NATCHEZ — Economic development and infrastructure topped the hot-issue meter at the Natchez Political Candidates Forum Thursday night.

The 17 candidates that participated spoke of their platforms and answered questions from a panel.

All three mayoral candidates participated in the forum, Incumbent Mayor Phillip West, current Alderman Jake Middleton of Ward 6 and Chick Graning.

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Out of the five questions asked to each mayoral candidate, one common theme ran among them — jobs.

West said he’s always kept an open mind to industry.

“Since I’ve been mayor, I’ve shown an attitude that we’re business friendly,” he said.

He said it’s the mayor’s job to bring in industry and create an atmosphere in the city where new business will want to come in.

Middleton said the mayor must welcome business with open arms but when it comes to specific questions about industry coming in, they should be directed to the Economic Development Authority.

Graning agreed that it’s the responsibility of the mayor to bring in businesses, even if it means doing whatever to meet the needs of a potential industry.

“We may be limited in some way where we can’t offer what they want so we build it,” he said. “We need to sell, compete and prepare ourselves to do so.”

From Ward 1, Paul Johnson, Incumbent Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Jim Sanders participated.

Johnson proposed solutions for finding funding to improve the city’s infrastructure.

He said the new hotels and the casinos coming to town will broaden the tax base and allow the city more income to improve infrastructure.

Mathis said it is important to be aware of the problems and to know the system by which solutions can be found and that infrastructure is something the city consistently works to improve.

“Pot holes and street problems, we’re working on,” she said.

Sanders is aware of the street problems.

“Ward 1 has some of the worst streets,” he said.

He hopes that the money that is being asked for in Jackson to improve the streets will come through.

Aldermen James “Ricky” Gray was the only candidate from Ward 2 to participate.

He was asked what he would do to improve the dilapidated homes and the eyesores of Ward 2.

He spoke of his work with the Mississippi Municipal League and the work he was done to get funds to have North Union Street paved.

Gwen Ball and Incumbent Bob Pollard were the two candidates from Ward 3.

They were asked what could be done about the two gateways to the community in their ward, especially with regards to Homochitto Street, which is in disrepair.

Pollard referred to the $1.2 million that has been request to overlay major streets and gateways to the community.

“I was the key alderman to purchase the vacuum truck to clean up areas,” he also said.

He said the beautification of the city is very important to him.

Ball said it’s going to take the whole city’s effort to beautify Natchez.

“We need to come together as an entire city,” she said.

Incumbent Theodore “Bubber” West, Ernest “Tony” Fields and Donnell Newsome were the candidates for Ward 4.

The candidates were asked what should be done about old and dilapidated properties that are in need of condemnation.

West said he is very aware of this problem.

“We have 246 properties in Natchez that need to be torn down, but it can’t be done immediately,” he said. “I wish there was a way to get legislation to change the process.”

Fields said in his conversations with his potential constituents, he has found that the solution is to find the owners of these properties and offer them an ultimatum; do something about it or the city will.

Newsome said the owners do need to be found and it’s the cities responsibility.

“The laws should be strictly enforced,” he said.

For Ward 5, the candidates who participated in the forum were Francis Thompson-Bailey, Mark Fortenbery, Tim Sessions and Charles Zucarro.

They were asked if they would support annexation of Beau Pre and Broadmoor subdivisions.

Bailey said if the community supported annexation, she would support it.

Fortenbery said annexation is key to growth.

“A city cannot grow towards the middle,” Fortenbery said.

Sessions also said it is important to annex in new land.

Zucarro was the only one who did not favor annexation.

“Most of them (in the county) don’t want to be in the city,” he said.

Dan Dillard was the only candidate to participate in Ward 6.

He was asked about recreation and if he would support it.

“Recreation is important, you can measure a community by how it recreates,” he said.