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The focus of the two-hour NAACP forum

, which also drew about 100 people, centered on the current administration. Ernest McBride posed a question to both Walker and Leyens, asking them to explain how $40,000 was paid in 1999 to Leyens for a downtown development plan.

“The purpose of the $40,000 was to get a plan for downtown Vicksburg,” Walker said. But, “I have not received that study and it has not been presented to the city.”

Leyens responded: “I personally delivered that document, not once, but twice, to the mayor’s office.”

In October 1999, the board of Main Street, a program funded by an added downtown property tax, commissioned Leyens with city approval to come up with a marketing plan for downtown.

In May 2000, Leyens presented a 23-page initial draft to the Main Street board. The draft emphasized tourism and laid out 12 points for turning downtown into a destination for visitors.

Walker, who was not at the meeting when the report was presented in May 2000, had said at the time that he was pleased with the direction the report took and that he, “think(s) it has great potential to develop into something that will help our city get to where it needs to go.”

The six candidates seeking the two alderman posts were invited to the NAACP forum along with the candidates for mayor. Independent candidate for the North Ward seat, Sylvester Walker, 40, did not attend, citing a prior engagement.

Democratic nominee for the South Ward post Pam Johnson, 35, also addressed racial problems in the city during her opening remarks.

“It is time for all of us to come together, put race aside, and move forward,” Johnson said.

Other issues prominent among the candidates for the South Ward seat were services for the youth and elderly. The youngest candidate in the race, Ashlea Mosley, 18, said that inspiring the younger generation is one of her main reasons for running for public office.

“I feel the youth has lost faith in our government because they are always being told they are too young to get involved,” Mosley said. “I hope by my doing this, the young will follow my example.”

The candidates for alderman were also asked to explain their positions on the city’s form of government. Although little noise has been made this year about the issue, changing Vicksburg’s commission form of government was a hot topic early after the present administration took office.

“I was a supporter of the commission form of government and I still support the commission form of government,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, 45, who won the Democratic nomination May 1 and is seeking her third term.

The city board is made up of two aldermen elected from wards and a mayor elected at-large. All three have a single vote in city decisions. There is a division of appointments and responsibilities, but it is informal.

Other forms of government that have been proposed for Vicksburg would create additional wards and change the mayor’s position to a primarily administrative position. Walker, Young and others have said a change in the form of government would dilute the voice of the black community.

Mosley said the city board needs additional aldermen, but suggested they could be elected at-large without changing the duties of the mayor. Any change in the form of government would have to be approved by the Legislature.

Beauman, Johnson and independent candidate for South Ward Vickie Bailey, 33, all said they support the current form of government.

“I think that the personalities and a person’s commitment is what makes a good alderman or mayor, not the form of government,” Beauman said.

Other questions the candidates were asked included relations between the schools and city government and taxes and city property.