Let’s play hosts of a different sort

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 5, 2010

The last time Natchez came close to hosting a federal trial of national importance was in 1806.

If you grew up listening to stories of former vice president Aaron Burr being tried for treason under the majestic oaks of Historic Jefferson College, you are not alone.

Unfortunately such stories were the product of rumor and myth.

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The truth of the matter is that the founding father and slayer of Alexander Hamilton was arrested in November 1806 near Washington. Burr sat before a grand jury and was found not guilty due to a lack of evidence.

Burr was set free and the area’s best chance of playing host to a high stakes federal trial left with him.

If Natchez plays her cards just right, all of that could change some two hundred years later.

Call me foolish, but if the Obama administration has suddenly decided to move the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of Sept. 11, and other terrorists from New York City to another location, Natchez officials should raise their hands and say, “Come on down. Welcome Y’all.”

After all, Natchez has a brand new federal courthouse ready for the national spotlight. Our new federal facility has yet to be tested by a trial of national, historic significance.

According to news reports, the White House proposes spending $200 million to help pay for security costs in cities hosting the trials of the accused terrorists. Originally, the Obama administration planned to host the trials in a federal court near where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Due to the extraordinary security steps that would be required to host a trial in Lower Manhattan, the White House has backed away from its original plan.

Now they plan to spend their millions of dollars at an alternative site.

I say, “Why not Natchez?”

We already have much of what?

Federal courthouse? Check.

Detention center? Check.

Eighty years of hosting experience? Check

Available hotel rooms? Check.

Surely we would welcome the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be pumped into this town not only for security but also for the media circus that would surely follow. Talk about stimulus.

Some might believe that moving a trial to a small town in Mississippi would be moving it away from those who were affected most on Sept. 11. Yet I believe it was not just New York City, but the heart of America that was attacked that tragic day. What better place is there than small town U.S.A. for a trial of such historic importance?

Coupled with working such a deal behind closed doors, Natchez leaders should also make a public plea under the glaring lights of FOX News, CNN and other media outlets. Imagine the publicity our little town could garner by making such a bold statement.

Such out-of-the-box thinking — like that of bringing a skating rink to downtown Natchez — is what will help separate our town from all of the other towns clamoring for attention and publicity..

After all, what would it hurt? And if it succeeded, imagine the impact.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3550 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.