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Voters head to polls Tuesday in primary for city elections

NATCHEZ — Natchez voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in the municipal Democratic Party primary election.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Tuesday and on the ballots will be Democratic Party candidates for Natchez mayor and aldermen positions in wards 1, 4 and 6.

The city’s other alderman wards are uncontested so incumbents, Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith and Ward 5 Alderman Benjamin Davis, who all filed for reelection as Democrats, will serve another term by default, as will incumbent Municipal Judge Lisa Jordan Dale who garnered no opposition.

Only one Republican, Brenda Floyd, a candidate for Ward 4 alderman, filed to run for any of the municipal seats and therefore no Republican primary election is necessary Tuesday.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, 502 people had cast absentee ballots in the City Clerk’s Office at Natchez City Hall, said Servia Fortenberry, Natchez City Clerk.

Click here for link to map of Natchez wards and voting precincts.

Voting in COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated this year’s municipal elections.

The municipal election cycle has been delayed twice due to the pandemic. The party primary date was originally scheduled for April 7, but city officials moved it back to May 12 because of the pandemic and then later moved it back to June 2, which is Tuesday.

Election workers have developed protocols for Tuesday’s election to help limit the possibility of spreading COVID-19.

“We will have signs on the doors to each one of the voting wards,” said Larry Gardner, Adams County Election Commission chairman. “What the signs basically say is ‘Have a mask or face covering of some kind before you enter the building.’”

Gardner said bailiffs would be at the door of each voting precinct to make sure people follow the rules before entering.

“Please have your voter ID or photo ID available, because we don’t want any of the voters (or workers) to have to touch anything,” Gardner said.

Disposable pens will be available for people to sign in with and either keep or throw away, Gardner said.

“We just want them to show (photo identification),” Gardner said. “We will have sneeze guards at the tables where the people will be picking up their ballots.”

Gardner said workers also will be sanitizing voting precincts regularly and hand sanitizer will be available.

“We’ve got chlorine,” Gardner said. “We’ve got wipes and all kinds of stuff and even squirt bottles of sanitizer where we can periodically sanitize all the equipment.”

Instead of touching a touchscreen, voters will be given a stylus (a stick similar to a Popsicle stick) to touch the screen to cast a ballot.

“Then they just throw that stylus away,” Gardner said. “Nobody should be touching anything even after they sign for their voter card. They can keep that pen and take it home or throw it away. We don’t want anybody to reuse what somebody else has already used.”

Also, Gardner recommends voters try not to show up at peak hours, such as when the polling places first open because the number of people allowed to enter at one time will be limited due to 6-foot spacing requirements.

The good news, Gardner said, is that the weather should be good.

“Please come out and vote,” Gardner said.

Candidates on Tuesday’s ballots

Below is a rundown of each of the candidates who will be on Tuesday’s Natchez Municipal Democratic Party Primary ballots.

Mayor

Democratic Natchez Mayoral candidates Tony Fields and Dan Gibson will be on the ballots Tuesday and the winner of that race will face independent candidates Richard Branyon and Phillip West in the July 14 general election.

Tony Fields

Fields is a life-long Natchez resident, a former Ward 4 Alderman and Natchez-Adams School District educator and administrator for more than 19 years.

“My approach is to improve Natchez from the inside out,” Fields said of his candidacy, which is built around the acronym LEAP — Leadership, Experience, Accountability and Professionalism. “We have the people we need right here, right now to do that.”

Fields said he would like to develop a workforce-training center in Natchez to help prepare young people for careers.

Fields also said he believes Natchez could become more of an entertainment destination with the right marketing and promotion of live entertainment events.

Dan Gibson

Gibson, a former mayor of Crystal Springs and a former candidate for governor, is a lobbyist, a bed and breakfast owner, who has made Natchez his fulltime hometown since early 2016.

“I’ve been a lover of Natchez all my life, thanks to parents who brought me here often as a child,” Gibson said of his adopted hometown. “I officially became a resident here in early 2016.”

Gibson said he would use his contacts in Jackson and Washington, D.C., that he has developed throughout his career as a lobbyist, to help Natchez recruit and retain industry.

Gibson also said he plans to create a workforce training center to help youths in Natchez.

Ward 1 Alderman

Democratic candidates for Ward 1 Alderman, who will be on Tuesday’s ballots are incumbent Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Valencia Hall. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face independent Jamar White in the July 14 general election.

Joyce Aceneaux-Mathis

Mathis is a six-term incumbent who was first elected to the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen in 1996.

Mathis, a Natchez native, said she believes her experience as an alderman and as an educator and former president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, makes her the best candidate to serve the next four years as Natchez alderman in Ward 1, especially in the follow-up to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not my first rodeo with Washington,” Mathis said. “I go there on a regular basis. … This town at this point needs every bit of information, connections, background and history where we move forward because this is not going away, and we are going to have a long road ahead. It is unchartered waters.”

Valencia Hall

Hall is a Natchez native who is running on fiduciary responsibility and accountability for the City of Natchez.

“I am passionate about the future of Natchez,” Hall said, adding that her vision for the future of Natchez includes balancing the books, consolidating the city’s banking accounts and conducting audits.

“Financial transparency is a key to trust,” said Hall, who is a retired nurse and who has served on the Mississippi Archives and History Board of Trustees.

Hall said she is committed to improving drainage in the Marblestone neighborhood, supports Natchez Inc., recreation and the Woodlawn Historic District.

“Something has to be done, not just in Ward 1, but in all of Natchez,” Hall said.

Ward 4 Alderman

Democratic candidates for Ward 4 Alderman, who will be on Tuesday’s ballots are incumbent Felicia Bridgewater-Irving, Michael “Mike” Calcote and Frederick “Rick” Todd. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Republican candidate Brenda Floyd in the July 14 general election.

Felicia Bridgewater-Irving

Irving is completing her first term as Ward 4 alderwoman.

“I have the experience and knowledge,” said Irving as to why people should vote for her. “I am a certified municipal official.”

Irving has helped create Neighborhood Watch committees in Ward 4 neighborhoods, established a community garden for youths in the ward and is chairwoman of the Minor Street Festival, which is a neighborhood street party organized by her family 30 years ago.

Irving said she supports the city’s efforts to install surveillance cameras through Project NOLA.

“Every street in the City of Natchez deserves to be a safe neighborhood,” Irving said. “Safety is a top priority.”

Michael “Mike” Calcote

Calcote is a former International Paper employee who said he is committed to working to bring more jobs back to Natchez.

“I will work together with the board as a team,” Calcote said. “With the leadership in place and the connections in Jackson and Washington we will work together to bring jobs back to Natchez.”

After IP relocated in 2003, Calcote said he worked at Monmouth Historic Inn and Gardens, the Natchez Eola and for the Sports Center for periods of time.

Calcote said he is honest and is a candidate for people who are looking for a change.

“I’m God-fearing,” Calcote said. “I will have to answer to a higher power.”

Frederick “Rick” Todd

Todd is a physical education teacher at McLaurin Elementary, which was recently named the “The Healthiest School in Mississippi” by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.

“My idea for Natchez is a great one,” Todd said, adding he is qualified for the position because his family, including the late Dr. J.R. Todd, has been in public service in Natchez for many years.

Todd said he believes the city should partner with Port Gibson and other towns along the Mississippi River to attract commerce to the city’s ports.

“I network well with people,” Todd said, adding he would also like to slow the crime rate in Natchez and help bring in funding to establish programs to help young people in Natchez.

Ward 6 Alderman

Democratic candidates for Ward 6 Alderman, who will be on Tuesday’s ballots are incumbent Dan Dillard, Arrick Rice and Queen Ella Wilson. No independent or Republican candidates filed to run for Ward 6 alderman, so the winner of the primary will be the next Ward 6 alderman.

Dan Dillard

Dillard is the incumbent Ward 6 alderman, and he said his experience in the position for the past four years is needed in the follow up of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This would be the wrong time to step down,” Dillard said of his desire to seek another term. “I have the skillset and experience Natchez needs.”

Dillard said he ran for his first term on financial accountability and balancing the city’s budget.

“… for the last three years the city has ended with a surplus,” Dillard said, adding that the city also spent more than $1 million resurfacing streets, increased pay for police officers and firefighters and installed crime-fighting cameras while maintaining the balanced budgets.

Arrick Rice

Rice, a lifelong resident of Natchez, said he wants to give back to his city.

Rice, most recently served as an aide to Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell but stepped down approximately six months ago so he could run for the Ward 6 alderman position, he said.

Rice, who now works with his family’s funeral business at Marshall Funeral Home in Natchez, said his grandfather, a Pentecostal preacher, always told him, “To serve yourself, you have to serve someone else.”

Rice said he learned that first hand while working for Grennell for approximately three and a half years helping run the city’s business.

“A vote for me is a vote for your voice to be heard,” Rice said.

Queen Ella Wilson

Wilson is an independent businesswoman who built her business from the ground up.

First, she began in the 1980s with a small printing shop and later stumbled into a catering business serving the Natchez Police Department inmates for approximately 16 years and later providing food service for nursing homes in Natchez and Fayette before opening Southern Style Restaurant and Catering in Natchez.

“Our people deserve better,” Wilson said of her decision to seek office. “They deserve to get better jobs, recreation, training and to grow up with skills.”

Wilson said she would be accountable to constituents and hold regular community meetings.

“The voices of the people will not be heard if you do not go back to the people,” Wilson said of her desire to hold community meetings.