• 72°

ParkView won’t be left vacant, candidates say

Some of the candidates appearing Tuesday night are, from left, mayoral candidates Laurence Leyens and Robert Walker; two Wildwood subdivision residents; North Ward candidates Gertrude Young and Rodney Dillamar; and South Ward candidates Sidney H. Beauman Jr., Carl Marshall Upton, Sam Smith, Vickie Bailey and Pam Johnson. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[04/04/01] The future of the ParkView medical complex was one topic as residents of a neighborhood developed when the hospital was built met with candidates.

Wildwood resident Brian Green posed the question, the first asked Tuesday night: “What are you going to do to make sure this hospital doesn’t become a multistory vacant building?” he asked.

Three candidates for mayor incumbent Robert Walker, Laurence Leyens and Joe Loviza related separate conversations with Alan Daugherty, chief executive officer of River Region Health System, which owns the hospital. All said they had been promised the building would not be left vacant.

Walker said several options are possible, including using the building for a quasi-medical facility or having it involved with a teaching facility, possibly Alcorn State University. He said his favorite option is retrofitting it for living quarters.

“But that’s what’s supposed to be going on at the Aeolian and at Carr Central,” Green said, referring to two other decaying city buildings slated to be renovated into housing. “And nothing has happened.”

River Region plans to move in 10 months to its new hospital complex on U.S. 61 North. Wildwood, where streets bear the names of members of the Sisters of Mercy, was developed north of Grove Street in the 1950s when the Catholic order built what was then Mercy Hospital-Street Memorial.

The Aeolian, at Cherry and Clay, is a privately owned apartment complex from the 1920s until the 1990s. The city has pressured two recent owners to fix the relic up or have it torn down. The city sold the Carr complex, also on Cherry, to developer Robert Rosenthal and last month declined to reclaim the deed, as the contract specified, if no work was done. Rosenthal said he believes he can get financing this year to convert the former school into a residential facility.

About 40 residents attended the forum and heard from 13 of the 15 candidates, including those from the South Ward. All of Wildwood is in the North Ward.

Each was allowed to speak for 3 minutes and then took questions.

Recurrent themes were togetherness and economic development.

“We need to raise the expectations of our people,” said Eric Rawlings, the fitness instructor challenging Walker for the Democratic nomination on May 1. “The only way we can grow Vicksburg is to market the city to attract industry after industry after industry,”

Rawlings, 38, is proposing that the city join with Warren County and other economic development organizations to attract more jobs to the area.

Walker, 56, seeking a third term as mayor, said the city needs to include offering more cultural events in its approach to economic development.

“Quality-of-life things really make a difference,” Walker said when answering a question about how to attract college graduates to Vicksburg. He also pledged to create a commission on race and human relations if re-elected.

Independent Laurence Leyens, 36, said that as mayor he would set up monthly meetings with representatives from different communities to discuss problems unique to those areas.

“Effective government will come from the communities, not City Hall,” Leyens said.

Independent candidate for mayor Eva Marie Ford, along with South Ward independent candidate for alderman, Vickie Bailey, said beautification is an important factor for economic development.

“We can’t bring people into the city and ask them to build a building a block away from where there is trash and weeds are growing out of control,” Ford, 63, said.

Former mayor Joe Loviza and South Ward Republican candidate Sidney H. Beauman Jr., said developing a stronger economy for the city would require hard work by city officials.

“My position is positive reinforcement,” said Loviza, 61. “If I get a call at 2 a.m. about a broken sewer main or a crime, I’ll get up and go.”

The city’s budget also was an issue at the forum.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, 45, seeking a third consecutive term, said the city had to increase budgets to keep up with changes since casinos came to Vicksburg, but the money should be spent more on infrastructure needs, such as additional water wells.

“When we got casinos, we got crimes we weren’t used to; we got pawn shops; we got things I don’t want to say,” Young said. “I don’t believe the casinos will be here forever,” she said, so the money they generate should be used wisely while they are here.

Young is facing business owner Rodney E. Dillamar, 41, and retired educator Jo Pratt, 67, in the Democratic primary.

“I am a novice when it comes to politics, but I am a veteran of business,” said Pratt, who added that casino revenue needed to be spent more wisely.

Dillamar, who listed a five-point plan for improving the city, said he was at the forum to hear what citizens had to say.

The North Ward primary winner will face independent Sylvester Walker, 40, in the general election. Walker did not attend the forum.

“I’m a working guy,” said Beauman, 52, director of the city’s parks and recreation department. “That’s what I’d like to do as South Ward alderman.”

The only Republican candidates in the election are in the South Ward, where Beauman and restaurant manager Sam Smith, 37, will vie for the post.

“We need change in Vicksburg,” said Smith, who brought up Vicksburg’s March 19 appropriation of $40,000 to bring a bass fishing tournament to town. “That’s not leadership,” he said, “that’s politics.”

On the Democratic ballot in the South Ward, Pam Johnson, 35, owner of a local hair salon, will face Carl Marshall Upton, 41, a self-employed electrician.

“I think the three-people system has worked,” Johnson said. “But if we had two more aldermen, that would be better.”

“It’s time to make Vicksburg a cleaner town,” Upton said.

Both South Ward primary winners will advance to the city’s general election and face independents Bailey and Ashlea Mosley, 18. Mosley did not attend the forum.