North Ward race pits two veterans of local politics|[5/2/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 2, 2005

When Vicksburg voters head to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in three primary contests, the race to watch could be in the North Ward, where two seasoned veterans of local politics will slug it out for the chance to advance to the next round.

The North Ward race is the only one with a current city official on the ballot. Incumbent Alderman Gertrude Young, 49, senior at City Hall with three four-year terms behind her, is being challenged for the Democratic nomination by Warren County District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield, 47, and Rodney Dillamar, 45, a convenience store owner.

As an independent, incumbent Mayor Laurence Leyens, 40, gets a pass straight to the winner-take-all general election voting on June 7. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who, like Leyens, is completing his first term, is a Republican, but faces no party opponent.

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Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Cloudy skies with a high near 71 is the forecast. Results will be televised live on the city’s cable channel, RCTV 23; posted on the Internet at www.vicksburg.org and covered by WQBC 1420 AM.

Four people are vying for the Democratic nomination for mayor. Former Warren County District 2 Supervisor John Ferguson, 63; Eric Rawlings, 42, who ran unsuccessfully for the nomination four years ago; Warren County District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, 44; and first-time office-seeker John Shorter, 38, a contractor with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be on the ballot.

Both the North Ward and mayoral primaries present runoff possibilities. Unlike general elections, which are won by the person with the most votes, winning primaries requires a majority – more than half of all votes cast.

If runoffs are needed in either or both primaries, they will be May 17.

The primary winner will in the North Ward and will advance to face independents Vickie Bailey, 37, and Tommie Rawlings, 42, in the general election.

The only race where a runoff is not possible is in the South Ward where only two candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination. Former Vicksburg police officer DaVon Grey, 46, and local hair dresser Pam Johnson, 39, are seeking the nomination and a chance to challenge incumbent Beauman, 57.

Johnson won the nomination four years ago, taking twice the number of votes as her opponent, but that year there was also a Republican primary in the South Ward which split voters. Since Beauman is unopposed for the party nomination, voters in that ward can only choose the Democratic race.

With the mayoral candidates also all on the Democrat’s ballot, Johnson will need to garner about twice as many votes as before to win that race.

Both Young and Mayfield are currently serving third terms in their offices and conventional wisdom of local politics says a fourth term is near impossible. While that would seem to give the edge to Mayfield, other theories are that voters won’t unseat an incumbent to give the job to another office holder.

Some have also suggested that voters in Warren County’s District 2, which includes a large chunk of the city’s North Ward, won’t unseat Mayfield leaving open his seat on the county board.

That could open up a window of opportunity for Dillamar who is making his third try for the nomination in that race. Four years ago, he captured 610 votes, about half the number of votes Young got to win that primary, to come in third place.

Interest in the primaries is lower than four years ago, if absentee voting is used as a gauge. In 2001, 161 absentee ballots were cast, but only 120 people voted this year despite the larger selection of candidates. If advance turnout continues to forecast turnout on election day then voter turnout would be expected to be around 4,000 people.

Four years ago, about 30 percent of those listed as eligible voters, 5,224, cast ballots in the party primary. With 18,380 voters eligible today, turnout would be around 5,500 if the same percentage show up at the polls Tuesday.

That would mean a candidate in the mayor’s primary race would need 2,750 votes to guarantee a victory without a runoff.

In 2001, Rawlings took 2,404 votes, but not enough to upset then incumbent Mayor Robert Walker who won the primary by a margin of 450 votes. Rawlings has said he hopes to capitalize on his prior success, but some have said that a lot of his votes could have been more anti-Walker than pro-Rawlings.

Selmon is also looking to build on his three previous victories running in the only Warren County District completely within the city limits. In his last contest for that post in 2003, he took 70 percent of the votes cast in that district, but he faced only one opponent in that race.

Selmon could expect large support from his county district, but he could be in trouble if that race goes to a runoff because of historically low turnout in runoffs from the central precincts. That could work to the advantage of other candidates including Shorter who have campaigned hardest in the extreme northern and southern parts of the community and Ferguson who previously represent the county district in the North Ward.

The winner in that contest will eventually face Republican Shirley Newman Smollen, 69, and independents Leyens, 40, and former Mayor Joe Loviza, 65, for the $73,500-a-year post.

Winners take office July 1.