Winfield, too, wants police chief fired

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 24, 2009

Mayoral hopeful Paul Winfield on Thursday became the second Democratic candidate to openly support firing Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett, saying the department is not doing enough to protect the city’s citizens from violent crimes.

“Vicksburg is one of the most unsafe cities in the state, and it’s pretty obvious our current leadership at the police department has missed the mark by focusing on misdemeanor crimes,” Winfield told Port City Kiwanis members as guest speaker at its weekly meeting. “When you have a lack of leadership or misguided leadership, you are going to fail.”

Winfield said there should be more officers on the force, more neighborhood policing being done and more emphasis on investigating felony crimes and arresting violent criminals. He said the “profit driven” city court also needs an overhaul due to too many misdemeanor tickets being issued.

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In his first run for public office, Winfield, an attorney, is competing against Gertrude Young, John Shorter and Tommy Wright for the Democratic nomination. The four will be on ballots May 5, with a runoff set for May 19 if none of them gets more than half the votes cast. The winner will advance to a June 2 one-on-one contest with Mayor Laurence Leyens, who is seeking a third term as an independent. No Republicans filed, and both North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman are running unopposed.

Shorter said last week at a Port City Kiwanis meeting he would replace Moffett if elected. Police department operations were cited by Leyens when he first sought office and he called the need for improvement of the department as the main reason he was elected. Although previous administrations had routinely changed department heads, Leyens replaced none at the outset. Moffett was hired in October 2002 after retiring from the Biloxi Police Department.

While Shorter also said he’d push to close the Vicksburg Municipal Airport on U.S. 61 South, which Leyens’ administration has taken a renewed interest in over the past year, Winfield said he felt it could be a useful economic development tool but did not elaborate on any plans or say to what extent he would support keeping it open. The airport terminal building is being rehabbed, a 20-year plan for an expanded airport has been developed and Leyens has also floated the idea of building another port south of the city that could be serviced by the airport. The city is also one of four municipal owners of the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound, which was to replace the Vicksburg airport when it was originally conceived in 1983. 

Young has said she would take a look at how the police department is being run — in addition to all of the other city departments — but said taking a stand on the police chief issue without first investigating how the department is functioning would be foolish. While North Ward Alderman in 1998, she cast the lone vote to keep the Vicksburg airport open.

Wright did not participate in the lone debate, and has not made any public appearances during the campaign. Instead, he is offering his platform on his Web site and via a newsletter.

Winfield said Leyens’ leadership has “only been about a select few people.”

“We all deserve the opportunity to prosper,” he said. “Vicksburg needs a leader that is going to be respectful to everybody and has a degree of humility. It’s no secret that the last eight years have been like a constant re-run of a bad drama. It’s always a constant fight going on, and that’s bad politics. I have an open mind, and I will keep an open door as mayor. ”

Citing his experience working with the Warren County Board of Supervisors as its board attorney from 2005 until 2008, Winfield said he is the only candidate running who already has a good relationship with county administrators and could mend the frayed relationship between the city and county officials.

Winfield also touched on his desire to create an economic development department within the city, and said working to provide affordable housing and offer first-time home-buyer programs would be among his highest priorities.

Winfield is also the former municipal court judge for Port Gibson and is serving in his fifth term as the Port Gibson city attorney. He is married to Malissa Winfield, a practicing attorney in Jackson. They have one son.

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Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com