Candidates square off at NAACP forum

Published 1:39 pm Saturday, July 22, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Candidates for Mississippi elections, for both local and state positions, met Thursday at a forum hosted by the Natchez Adams County NAACP Branch.

Featured candidates included District 37 State Senator Albert Butler and his challenger Shirley “Bea” Sandifer; Adams County Board of Supervisors candidates, including for District 1 incumbent Wes Middleton and challenger Mike Lazarus and for District 5 incumbent Warren Gaines Sr. and challengers James Berry Jr. and Brad Dean; Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten and his challenger Lance Adams; Chancery Clerk Brandi Lewis and her challenger Angie King; Tax Assessor Larry Hughes and his challenger Conswella Madison; County Prosecutor Anthony “Tony” Heidelberg and challenger Lydia Roberta Blackmon; Southern District Justice Court Judge Eileen Maher and challenger Danny Barber; and Constable of Northern District 1 candidates Deselle Mody Davis and Fay Minor. Incumbent Constable of Northern District 1 Willie B. Jones is not seeking another term.

Only those who face an opponent in the primary election on Aug. 8 were invited to speak during Thursday night’s forum, said Natchez Adams County NAACP President Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis.

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She added there would be a second forum for the general election at a later date. The general election is Nov. 7.

“We are non-partisan and we’re not leaving anyone out,” Mathis said.

During the forum, which was not a debate, candidates were each allowed a total of three minutes to speak, two minutes to introduce themselves and give any brief comments concerning the position they are running for and an additional minute to answer two questions and summarize.

However, incumbent and challenging supervisor candidates had disagreements about how the county is doing in this administration and the direction its headed.

Lazarus, who lost the District 1 supervisor seat to Middleton in 2020 after a 12-year run in office and is seeking another term, said he’d been getting phone calls from his old constituents, including one who stated his house had been flooded by an overflowing culvert before anything was done by the county.

“All you have to do is serve the people and care about the community,” Lazarus said while making promises to do so and to always answer his phone when someone calls.

Lazarus also said the relationship between city and county officials was not as it should be while pointing out the fallout of two interlocal agreements that had been previously made between the city and county pertaining to recreation and E911 services.

“We need to work together, the city and the county, put our egos aside and work for what is best for the people of Natchez and Adams County.”

Middleton’s rebuttal of these claims was that the city, county and school board, too, are all working together to build a workforce development program. He said under the interlocal for recreation by the previous administration, “Nothing was happening.”

Since then, the county has revamped its parks and the city has done the same for theirs.

“Even if I don’t answer right away, I always return my phone calls and take care of my constituents,” Middleton said. “I promise you, the path that we’re on is not going to change right now. We’re headed in the right direction.”

In contrast, District 5 candidate James Berry said that the county has gone in “the wrong direction” and asked for votes so that he could get involved in moving the community forward.

“Every problem that we have in this community touches me personally, whether it’s education or economics,” Berry said, which he added are two of the most critical issues.

“I’m a hard worker, a family man and I love my community,” he said. “Please give me the chance on Aug. 8 to serve you the people.”

Dean, also running for District 5, said he is a businessman with 23 years of experience in the automobile sales industry and wants to use that experience to sell Adams County to potential industrial clients.

“We need to promote what is positive for us and present Natchez as the best opportunity for businesses to locate here,” he said. He used his last few seconds of speaking to add that, if elected, he would work to “put revenue back on the books” to lower taxes.

Gaines, incumbent, used his time to speak of the positive changes happening in Adams County, including fresh pavement on roads, revamping of parks and community centers and workforce development.

He reiterated that the county is working with the city and the school board on the workforce development front, which has never been done before.

In closing, he said, “Divided we will fall, but together we’ll stand.”