Ward 2 race about quality of life, experience

Published 12:16 am Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NATCHEZ — The three candidates running for the Ward 2 aldermen seat have varied backgrounds that all qualify them for the job, they said.

Johnny Franklin

In June, Franklin will be retiring from the Natchez Fire Department, with 32 years of service, and said he is ready to continue serving the residents of Natchez.

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If elected as aldermen of Ward 2, Franklin said he would focus on road improvements, crime and dilapidated housing.

Franklin outlined a plan whereby the city would lease dilapidated houses, tear them town and replace them with community gardens as a possible solution to a problem in Ward 2.

As a second possible solution, Franklin said the houses could still be leased, then refurbished and turned into Section 8 rental units.

“It keeps money coming into the city,” he said.

If elected, Franklin said he would combat crime in the city “more vigorously.” He also advocates raises for police and firemen.

Franklin said one of the greatest problems with crime is that many residents are afraid to report crime in their area.

“If they are afraid, they can call me and I’ll report it,” he said.

Franklin said he would seek grants for street repairs “more aggressively.”

“They are out there,” he said. “We need to find them.”

And perhaps most unique to Franklin is his personal desire for a pay decrease. Franklin said if elected, his state retirement plan would take care of his financial needs and he would draw less than one third the salary of a regular aldermen.

“The rest of the money stays with the city,” he said.

James “Ricky” Gray

For eight years Gray has been representing the voters of Ward 2.

Gray said if re-elected he would focus his next four years in office on quality of life issues.

Gray said he would focus on dilapidated buildings, educational issues and recreation.

“Those are all important issues to the community,” he said.

To address dilapidated housing in the area, Gray said he would continue to work with non-profit groups like Habitat for Humanity to have low-income housing improved.

Gray said his previous work with Habitat has given him insight as to how to effectively work with the issue of dilapidated housing.

In addition, Gray said he is the only alderman that has completed certification with the Mississippi Municipal League.

He said his training with the MML has given him valuable experience and valuable connections.

Gray said connections he has made with the MML can greatly aid his ability to remedy dilapidated housing in the area.

Gray also pointed to his proven track record with successful street repairs around Ward 2 as a reason he is worthy of re-election.

During his time as aldermen, Gray said he did valuable work on Minor Street with an overlay and road-widening project.

If re-elected, Gray said he would continue the same type of work on North Union and other streets in Ward 2.

Gray said his most valuable quality as aldermen comes in his ability to fight for his constituents.

“I’m going to fight for them,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing what God wants me to do.”

Larry Hooper Jr.

Hooper, a current middle school principal in Centreville, said if elected he would focus on educational reform in Natchez.

To aid the school system, Hooper said he would establish an elected school board instead of an appointed school board.

Hooper said he has gotten lots of support from residents who say they also want an elected school board.

And once the education system is corrected, other issues, many connected with crime, will also be corrected, Hooper said.

Hooper said children who have dropped out of school have little chance of a successful future and educational system must be fixed for their benefit.

“I’ll do anything I can to help a child,” he said.

In addition to working with the educational system, Hooper said he wants help attract new business to Natchez.

“We need to bring new business to the area,” he said.

“It’s part of the future of the community.”

Hooper said several of his former classmates have left Natchez for other areas with more promising job markets.

He said Natchez needs to be marketed as a place to grow new jobs.

“If we sell it they will come,” he said.