Mayoral candidates take to city streets as June 5 lines drawn

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2001

[05/03/01] As the dust settled from Tuesday’s primary election, candidates for mayor hit the streets of Vicksburg Wednesday looking to drum up support for next month’s general election.

Walking up and down Lane Street in Marcus Bottom, independent candidate for mayor Laurence Leyens knocked on every door, stopped drivers, chatted with people sitting on their front porches and placed yard signs in every yard where homeowners said it was OK.

“Just look at all these signs,” Leyens said as he waved back over his shoulder at the row of “Leyens for Mayor” signs lining the street.

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But what was most significant to Leyens wasn’t the number of signs he put out or the number of people receptive to his message, but that these voters who were putting up his sign are incumbent Mayor Robert Walker’s neighbors, less than a half-mile from Walker’s Togo Street home.

In Tuesday’s voting, Marcus Bottom and the other areas that voted in that precinct gave Walker his biggest precinct victory with 78 percent of the vote.

Across town on Sky Farm Avenue, the first woman to seek the mayor’s post, independent Eva Marie Ford, was knocking on doors in an area that gave 63 percent of its support to Walker in the primary.

“I’ve been talking to some people and getting a feel for where I am,” Ford said.

Former Mayor Joe Loviza, who has faced Walker in two previous elections, hit the streets around Clay Street and the inner-city, an area where he said he plans to do more work.

Voting Tuesday at the American Legion precinct on Monroe Street was split nearly even in the primary, but the largest polling place in the city went strongly for Walker four years ago.

“I think I’m doing pretty good with the working class,” Loviza said. But, “I’ve got to have some additional people that I didn’t get last time.”

While Ford, Leyens and Loviza were busy on the streets, Walker, who defeated first-time office-seeker Eric Rawlings in the Democratic primary Tuesday, returned to his office at City Hall.

“I’m the mayor and I have a job to do,” Walker said. “I have to take care of that first.”

Walker, 57, won the party’s nomination for mayor for the fourth time straight, this time by a margin of 446 votes. In 1997, Walker defeated Rep. George Flaggs in the party primary by 1,362 votes. He said Wednesday that he is not worried that his victory was slimmer this time.

“In elections, you look at the bottom line, and I would have been pleased with a one-vote victory,” Walker said.

Rawlings, who took 2,389 votes Tuesday, said he would be meeting with all of the four mayoral candidates before deciding whom to support in the general election. He said that the next four years at City Hall will determine his political future.

“If (the winner) doesn’t do what they promise, then I am going to run again,” Rawlings said.

At 37, Leyens is the youngest of the four candidates and admits feeling like the underdog in this race, but said he does not think age is a factor.

“I think experience and substance are everything,” said the businessman and developer. “Everything I earned in this world I earned on my own.”

Ford, 63, the eldest of the four, said she feels the same.

“I don’t think age should be a factor, but people can say anything is a factor,” she said.

Loviza, 61, said that with more candidates seeking the mayor’s post this year, the vote could be split more than in previous years, but that it will not hinder his chances. To win in the general election, a candidate needs the most votes, but a majority is not required.

When Loviza and Walker met in races in 1993 and 1997, they were the only candidates. In 1993, when Walker was seeking his second four-year term as mayor, Loviza won by a margin of 116 votes. Four years later, Walker reclaimed the post by 1,799 votes to win his present term.

“I’m going to have to do more work in the inner-city and east of the city,” Loviza said.

With 33 days to go until the general election, Leyens said he feels Tuesday’s primary results give him a “fantastic shot” at winning in June. He said that he believes most of the 948 voters who cast a Republican ballot in the South Ward primary and were therefore excluded from voting in the Democratic mayor primary will add to his support in the general election.

With that support, Leyens said, he estimates today there is a 300-500 vote difference between him and Walker.

“The race is going to be very, very close,” Leyens said.

Of the 17,407 names listed on city poll books, 5,224, or about 30 percent of eligible voters, cast ballots in Tuesday’s primaries. In the 1997 primary, 5,722, went to the polls and 8,867 turned out for the general election.

In the North Ward alderman’s race, two-term incumbent Gertrude Young, 45, won the Democratic nomination and will face independent Sylvester Walker, 40, on the June 5 ballot.

In the South Ward, Republican Sidney H. Beauman Jr., 52, and Democrat Pam Johnson, 35, won their primaries and will face independents Ashlea Mosley, 18, and Vickie Bailey, 33.

Vicksburg residents who are not registered to vote in city elections have until noon Saturday to sign up at the City Clerk’s Office in City Hall.