City election slate set|[3/5/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 7, 2005

Speculation about who will be in races to run the City of Vicksburg ended Friday with the deadline passing to qualify as a candidate for municipal office.

Two more candidates for mayor filed, and another challenger in the South Ward signed up for the May 3 party primary election. That brings the total number of candidates seeking the three elective municipal offices to 16, one more than four years ago.

The next big deadline will be April 2, the last day for residents to register to vote in the primary election. Today, about 18,098 names appear on city poll books, though U.S. Census numbers show 18,958 voting-age residents.

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About 8,415 ballots were cast in city elections four years ago.

In the mayoral race, former Warren County District 2 Supervisor John Ferguson, a Democrat, and Shirley Newman Smollen, a Republican, signed up to challenge incumbent Laurence Leyens, who is seeking his second four-year term as mayor. Former Vicksburg Police Officer DaVon Grey, a manager for a local Waffle House restaurant, also signed up to seek the Democratic nomination for the South Ward alderman’s post.

Ferguson, a contractor to the U.S. Office of Personnel and a member of the Warren County Port Commission, criticized the current administration’s spending on downtown and said he wants to bring a commonsense approach to City Hall that would benefit all of the community.

“It seems to a lot of people that the only one who has gained under the current mayor has been him personally,” Ferguson said.

Seeking the Democratic nomination, Ferguson, 63, will first have to face Eric Rawlings, 42; Charles Selmon, 44, and John Shorter, 38, in the party primary. The winner of that race will advance to face Leyens, 40, and former Mayor Joe Loviza, 65, both of whom qualified as independents along with the single Republican in that race.

Smollen, 69, is the only candidate seeking the Republican nomination for mayor and will advance to the June 7 general election automatically. The only woman in that race, Smollen would be the first woman to win the mayor’s office, and she said women’s issues will be a big part of her campaign.

“I think women shouldn’t be looked at in a different way (than men) in this town,” Smollen said.

She and her husband own a local bed and breakfast, and Smollen said that helping local businesses is also an important part of her decision to run.

“I really had no intentions of running for mayor until I started talking to people,” Smollen said.

The mayor’s salary is $73,500.

With a Republican joining the race for mayor, it guarantees that at least four names will be on the June 7 ballot, but since the winner is the candidate with the most votes, no runoff will be required.

Although winning the general election does not require a majority of the votes, winning a party nomination does. A runoff after the primary elections, if needed, will be on May 17.

A runoff is not possible in the South Ward party primary race because only two candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination. Grey, 46, and Pam Johnson, 39, are vying for that nomination and a chance to challenge incumbent Sid Beauman, 57, a Republican seeking his second term.

Grey, who left the police department last year, said he wants to make a positive impact on the community and bring integrity to City Hall.

“I feel there are a number of elected officials today that have ulterior motives and hidden agendas,” Grey said.

Grey did not give specifics.

A runoff is possible in the North Ward race for the Democratic nomination, where incumbent Gertrude Young, 49, is seeking her fourth term. She is being challenged by Warren County District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield, 47, and Rodney Dillamar, 45, a convenience store owner. The winner in the primary will face independents Vickie Bailey, 36, and Tommie Rawlings, 41, and Carl Yelverton, 58, who is alone in filing as a Republican.

Aldermen are paid $58,000 annually.