West’s rabbit’s foot may be enough for win

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sometimes little things make a big difference and being lucky is always better than being good.

That became painfully apparent a week and a half ago as the Natchez mayoral candidates took the stage at the 2008 Natchez Political Candidates Forum.

One of the rules of the forum was a random drawing to determine the order in which the candidates would speak.

Email newsletter signup

Unfortunately for challengers, Democrat Jake Middleton and independent Chick Graning, incumbent Democratic Mayor Phillip West drew the lucky first straw.

Give Phillip West a microphone and no script and he’ll quickly catch fire, a fire that’s difficult to extinguish.

With the delivery of a good Southern Baptist preacher, West took the stage and began preaching at the political forum.

Word on the street is that West is likely to win the challenge of long-time Alderman Jake Middleton.

And if the forum appearance is any indication, that seems likely.

Further, many of the anti-West crowd seem to have found a viable option in Graning. As an independent, he’ll face the winner between the Middleton-West battle.

The political forum appearances seem to mimic the general street logic.

While West came off as relaxed and confident, Middleton seemed a bit uncomfortable on stage.

To further drive the point home, he was a bit too far from the microphone, which made his answers a bit difficult to hear. West and Graning both had great stage presence. Middleton didn’t.

That’s unfortunate because Middleton said some really good things at the forum.

He’s for city-county consolidation. As a business owner, Middleton says he knows how to tighten the fiscal belt, which is a problem that’s easy to talk about, but difficult to do.

Making a long-talked about recreation complex become a reality is a key focus for Middleton, he said.

But the problem is not what Middleton said, but how he said it.

Following West on stage is a bit like being in the lineup just after Mickey Mantle or being the next act on stage after Frank Sinatra.

It’s difficult to shine after West’s eloquent, booming voice fills the room.

Graning did well in the role. The former football star, teacher and insurance salesman grabbed the microphone and charmed the crowd with his confident tone and authoritative voice.

But for now the focus is on the West and Middleton showdown. Except for five or six really dumb things — mishandling Willie B. Jones’ rehiring, continued struggles with keeping a city planner, demolishing the pecan factory without proper permission, etc. — West has mostly done a good job as mayor.

And, perhaps more important to his reelection bid than what’s he’s done is what he’s been lucky enough to have occur while he’s been in office. Some amazing things have happened.

Regardless of whether or not West actually did anything to help matters, he can take credit for the convention center hotel, two new casino projects in the works, two new non-casino hotels, etc. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time just helps.

And West is taking full advantage of that fact. He did, however, go a little too far at the forum and on a recent advertisement. West’s ad says that the unemployment rate was “approaching” 10 percent when he took office and that it’s nearly “cut in half” now at 5.5 percent.

That’s a bit misleading and is likely the result of looking at one single month compared to another single month rather than the average over time.

Anyone knows such data can be culled through and combed to make it appear better than it is.

But then again stage presence can do the same thing. Voters often vote based on who they like, not whom they think will do the best job.

Will stage presence ultimately determine who will win the mayor’s race? Only time will tell.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.