Three city alderman seats up for grabs in Tuesday election

Published 3:59 pm Monday, April 8, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Natchez voters go to the polls on Tuesday to select candidates for the general election for alderman in Wards 1, 4, and 5.

Mayor Dan Gibson, Municipal Judge Christina Daugherty and Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, Ward 3 Alderman Sarah Carter Smith, and Ward 6 Alderman Curtis Moroney are unopposed in the primary.

Because of redistricting in 2022, some ward lines have changed. Election Commission Larry Gardner urged voters to ensure they know their correct ward and voting place before Tuesday’s election.

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Polling precincts for the contested wards are as follows:

Ward 1, City Council Chamber Building, 115 S. Pearl Street, Natchez
Ward 4, Christian Hope Baptist Church, 301 Lasalle Street, Natchez
Ward 5, Adams County Safe Room, 323 Liberty Road, Natchez

Candidates for the Ward 1 Alderman position are incumbent Valencia Hall and Larry E. Hooper Jr.

Candidates for the Ward 4 Alderman position are incumbent Felicia Bridgewater-Irving and Michael Calcote.

Candidates for the Ward 5 Alderman position are incumbent Ben Davis and Jamar White.

Ward 1 Incumbent Valencia Hall

Valencia M. Hall is the incumbent Alderwoman for Ward 1 and is seeking her second term in that office.

Hall was born and raised in Natchez. She attended Holy Family and Cathedral Schools and graduated from Cathedral.

Hall earned her diploma in nursing at a three-year nursing program and later obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She also earned a master’s degree in counseling and a master’s degree in pastoral studies. She worked in several different nursing disciplines, including oncology, medical-surgical nursing, and psychiatric nursing. She began her career at Jeff Davis Memorial Hospital in Natchez and later was a nurse in Indiana and Alabama before returning to Natchez. She retired from the behavioral health unit at Merit Health Natchez. Hall is also a retired licensed marriage and family therapist.

During her first term in office, Hall said she is most proud of what has been accomplished in recreation and in improving the city’s roads through its paving program.

“All six city parks are now ADA-certified and compliant,” she said. We wanted to build an indoor recreation complex, but that is now phase 2 because our parks were in such bad shape. Our priority became getting parks ready for our children with safe equipment and a place to play.”

Phase 2 of the recreation improvement will be the indoor complex, which will be a place for indoor basketball and volleyball, as well as aerobics and other exercise activities for the community.

“I am proud of initiating the process of the North Natchez Youth Center Building and the Duncan Park Golf Clubhouse becoming Mississippi landmarks,” Hall said. She was chairperson of the city’s recreation committee.

“What I am perhaps most proud of is getting drainage for West Stiers Lane. They have not had drainage for more than 70 years. And getting Beech Street, Irving Lane, and Bluff Street paved. A resident of Beech Street told me she has lived there since 1974, and this is the first time that road has been resurfaced,” Hall said. “All of this was accomplished without raising taxes.”

She said additional streets in Ward 1 need resurfacing. We are going back to have more roads repaired, and we have more work to do on infrastructure in the city. The state has denied us twice the opportunity to have the Old Providence Road Bridge repaired. That’s still a priority of mine.

“And I am proud of the 1,000 jobs brought into Natchez these last three years,” Hall said. “I am proud of the accomplishments these last four years and am looking forward to bringing more improvements to our city for the benefit of the citizens of our municipality.”

Ward 1 Challenger Larry E. Hooper Jr.

Larry E. Hooper Jr., a lifelong Natchez resident, is running for Ward 1 Alderman because he is concerned about the city’s population decline and the overall quality of life.

“We do not have enough good-paying jobs,” Hooper said. “When kids graduate from here, they really don’t have any choice but to leave to find a good job. When they leave, they rarely ever return.

Hooper is a principal at Natchez High School. He and his wife, Sharonda, have two sons: Kaydan, 17, and London, 14.

“We need to work together — the aldermen and the county supervisors — with Natchez Inc. to bring good jobs here…And we need to hold people accountable. We have Chandler Russ (executive director of Natchez Inc.), who is making a large salary. Is anyone holding Chandler Russ accountable? It’s his job to bring business and industry to Natchez,” Hooper said.

He said businesses are closing daily here, and the cause is residents’ decreasing disposable income due to the tax burden placed on them.

Hooper also said parents should be held accountable for the increasing number of teens who are not enrolled in school.

“I have been an educator for 26 years and a principal since 2001. I have led multiple schools out of school improvement plans and have been a principal at a high-performing school as well. I love to restore something that people have given up on. We must change the trajectory of our children,” he said.

Hooper called for the enforcement of truancy laws, saying recent crimes in Natchez have been committed by teens who have dropped out of school and are doing nothing except breaking into houses, stealing guns, and committing crimes. He called for the re-establishment of the adolescent offender program, which took students who had committed crimes after school to the alternative school and required them to stay there each evening until 8 p.m. He said that the program was abolished when Gov. Phil Bryant left office.

Hooper also thinks the Natchez-Adams School District Board of Education should include at least one parent of a student on it.

“I think the youngest person on that board is 55 years old. We need at least one parent on that board,” he said.

Hooper expressed concern about a mix-up involving the changes of ward lines during redistricting, which led to a change in voting place for about 79 voters in his ward. He said the city administration and aldermen handled the situation poorly and that it will deprive some voters of the ability to vote absentee in the election.

Ward 4 Incumbent Felicia Bridgewater-Irving

Felicia Bridgewater-Irving is a Natchez native and a lifelong resident of the city’s Fourth Ward. She is seeking her third term in office.

Bridgewater-Irving has been a strong and devoted advocate for safety and has promoted Neighborhood Watch meetings in her Ward.

“One of the most important things to me is public engagement,” Bridgewater-Irving said. She divided her ward into seven sections and hosts monthly Neighborhood Watch meetings in each section. Together, the people of the neighborhoods of Ward 4 collected funds and had five NOLA cameras placed in the wards, “and we want to do more. It’s all about engaging the community and keeping the community safe,” she said.

One of the accomplishments Bridgewater-Irving is most proud is the Concord Drainage Project, 30 years in the making. Thanks to her making the project a priority and consistent lobbying for funds, work should begin on its first phase soon, which will involve North Concord Street, First Street West and LaSalle Street.

“This past year we were successful in receiving a $500,000 grant for the Concord Drainage Project,” Bridgewater-Irving said.

She has worked on economic development in the city and workforce development and is hopeful that through those efforts Natchez will develop into a tech hub, furthering education for students particularly in the field of healthcare technology.

She has been an educator for 16 years, teaching science on the high school level and now teaching fifth grade in Concordia Parish.

She is the organizer of the annual Minorville Jubilee, which has grown in its scope and popularity each year.

Bridgewater-Irving is proven to be a watchdog of city funds and often questions items on the city’s dockets to determine legitimate expenditures and whether expenditures are within the city’s budget.

“I am a person who is committed, dedicated and a listener. My campaign has always been about the people of Natchez. I am people focused,” she said.

Ward 4 Challenger Michael Calcote

Michael Calcote has lived in Natchez his whole life. He worked for International Paper Co. until its Natchez plant closed in 2003. Later, he worked offshore, managed the Sports Center, and now manages Brandon Hall Plantation in Natchez.

Calcote has been in the hospitality business in some way throughout his life.

“Mr. Buzz Harper took me under his wing while he owned Wigwam, and I worked for him, and he taught me customer service and hospitality. I’ve been doing that ever since. I love to serve people and give excellent service.

Calcote said he decided to run for Alderman in Ward 4 because he wants to serve the people in his ward.

“I love people and am passionate about serving them. I am a great communicator, and that is the key to anything in life,” he said.

Calcote said if elected, his focus will be on providing young people with training for jobs, economic growth in Natchez, and improving the city’s infrastructure.

“The school system needs to offer more vocational training for students. I want to be a part of making that happen,” he said. “Natchez has such great potential, and I believe if we come together in unity, there will be no stopping the growth and prosperity in Natchez. I look forward to working with other leaders here in Natchez to keep a balanced budget in the city, push economic growth, and fix our infrastructure.”

Ward 5 Incumbent Benjamin Davis

Benjamin Davis is the incumbent alderman in the city’s Ward 5. He is completing his first term in office.

Davis is a native of Natchez and a North Natchez High School graduate.

He and his wife, April, are the parents of three adult daughters and eight grandchildren.

Davis retired from the U.S. Army after serving 20 years, including six combat tours of duty. He has an associate’s degree from Copiah-Lincoln Community College and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from American Military University.

After retiring from the Army, Davis became a police officer, working for the Natchez Police Department and as a federal police officer. He now works at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

Davis pointed to numerous successes of his first term in office with which he was involved, including working to keep the city’s fire rating below a six to keep residents’ home insurance rates from increasing.

“I am proud of the fact that we have been able to give police, firefighters, and public works employees a raise. And it’s been a long time since the streets were paved,” he said.

Davis also said he has focused on helping make Natchez a good environment in which to do business.

“Since I took office, more than 33 businesses have opened in Ward 5,” he said.

Davis said that during this term, the city has been able to purchase a new ladder truck for the fire department and is in the process of purchasing a new pumper truck. “And we are still working on purchasing an additional truck,” Davis said. He is chairman of the aldermen’s committee that oversees the city’s fire service.

Davis said all of these projects have been accomplished without raising taxes on citizens.

Ward 5 Challenger Jamar White

Jamar White is seeking the city’s alderman position in Ward 5.

He is a lifelong resident of Natchez and the son of Bodie White Jr. and Veronica Dunmore Billings. White graduated in 2017 from Natchez Early College Academy. He earned an associate’s degree from Copiah-Lincoln Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Alcorn State University, both in criminal justice.

White is also a graduate of the LaFourche Parish Training Academy and is a certified law enforcement officer. He is a deputy at the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

White and his fiance, Sankofa Thomas, are the parents of Jamar White Jr., a one-year-old son.

He is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., is assistant fire chief for the Lake Montrose Volunteer Fire Station and is the head golf coach at Natchez High School.

“I am running for alderman because people in Ward 5 deserve a leader they can see, a leader who will communicate with them and tell them what is going on. Their alderman should be able to get things done for Ward 5,” White said.

White said he could focus on neighborhood safety, improve infrastructure in Ward 5, as well as increase the transparency of city government.

“I want to create a city-sponsored mentorship program for the youth. Not every child will excel in athletics,” he said.

White said he hosted a summer camp for young men to instill in them the qualities a man should have in today’s time.

“I also plan on creating a small business office to help entrepreneurs start and sustain businesses within the City of Natchez,” he said. “If elected, Ward 5 will have a leader who will communicate with them before, during, and after the election.”