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Laurence Leyens kicks off campaign for City Hall with old-fashioned rally

Independent mayoral candidate Laurence Leyens talks with Jim and Birdie Westbrook at his campaign rally Saturday. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[03/05/01] Mayoral candidate Laurence Leyens officially kicked off his campaign Saturday with a rally at the downtown department store long owned and operated by his family.

Leyens, 36, who admits to being the underdog in the race, said he is new to politics. But the event did bring out some seasoned veterans of public life, including longtime chancery clerk Oren Bailess, Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, and former Mississippi first lady Pat Fordice.

Supporters of the independent candidate wandered in and out of the former Valley Department Store about one block from City Hall all afternoon between speeches by the candidate hoping to move his office to Crawford and Walnut streets.

“My job as mayor is to serve the community and to serve this community well,” Leyens said.

He called the event an “old-fashioned” political rally that featured balloons, face painting, popcorn and hot dogs on the first floor of the Washington Street building.

During the three speeches made by Leyens, he repeated the basic themes of his campaign for the $56,531-a-year post: a long-term plan for Vicksburg and accountability of city government.

“Its going to be different than it has been in the last 12 years,” he said.

Since 1989, incumbent Robert Walker, 56, has served two, four-year terms as mayor and is seeking a third. Walker filed as a Democrat and will face Eric Rawlings, 38, in the May 1 primary elections.

The winner of that race will go on to face Leyens and two other independents, Joe Loviza, 61, and Eva Marie Ford 63, in the June 5 general election. Loviza defeated Walker’s re-election attempt in 1993, but lost to Walker four years later.

“We’ve been meandering for the past 12 years; we’re floating in the abyss,” Leyens said.

In other city races on May 1, voters will cast ballots in a Democratic primary in the North Ward and a Democratic and Republican primary in the South Ward.

In the North Ward alderman’s race, incumbent Gertrude Young, 45, is being challenged by business owner Rodney E. Dillamar, 41, and retired educator Jo Pratt, 67, in the primary election.

The winner will advance to face Sylvester Walker, 40, in the general election for the $45,491-a-year city post.

In the South Ward alderman’s race, incumbent Sam Habeeb is not seeking a second term. Looking to take his place in the Republican primary are Sidney H. Beauman Jr., 52, director of the city’s parks and recreation department, and restaurant manager Sam Smith, 37.

Facing off in the Democratic primary will be Pam Johnson, 35, owner of a local hair salon; Carl Marshall Upton, 41, a self-employed electrician; and former Warren County District 5 Supervisor Royce Eaves, 69. If none of the Democratic candidates gets a majority of the vote, a runoff will be May 15.

The winners in the primary elections will move forward to the general election where they will face independent candidates Ashlea Mosley, 18, and Vickie Bailey, 33, assistant director of the city’s Department of Youth Services.

Residents who have never voted in Vicksburg or Warren County or have moved have until noon March 31 to register to vote in the primary elections or noon May 5 to vote in the general election.