The race is on|Dems square off ahead of primary

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sparks flew and stances on the leadership of the Vicksburg Police Department took center stage as Democratic candidates gathered to talk about the issues one more time before Tuesday’s mayoral primary.

With Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett among about 50 in the Warren County Circuit Courtroom, attorney Paul Winfield attempted to modify earlier statements that he would replace the chief as a way to stem crime and improve the department.

“Chief Moffett, this is not about you,” Winfield said. “It’s about the crime. (Moffett) is more than welcome to stay if he so chooses.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Earlier this month, Winfield and primary opponent John Shorter had come out in favor of replacing Moffett after more than seven years at the helm of the department. While Winfield re-emphasized neighborhood policing as a way to curb crime and ease the burden on a city court system he said ensnares too many poor defendants unable to pay misdemeanor fines, Shorter was resolute on firing Moffett.

Shorter said despite recent conversations with the chief, he had not come to an agreement with him on ways to fight violent crime in the city. Though the District Attorney’s Office prosecutes criminal cases, Shorter cited the inability of the department to obtain convictions commensurate with arrests.

Winfield, Shorter and former North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young answered questions submitted on index cards by attendees of the forum, organized by the Vicksburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Corp., National Organization of Blacks in Government and the NAACP. The three in attendance spoke at a lectern and turned only sparingly to face opponents seated behind it. A fourth candidate on the Democratic primary ballot, Tommy Wright, did not attend.

Though the discourse between the candidates on issues of crime, code enforcement, city spending and tourism promotion was cordial for most of the nearly two-hour session — with most verbal jabs aimed at Mayor Laurence Leyens — a sharper tone took hold between Shorter and Winfield when asked how their individual backgrounds would influence the way they would govern if elected.

“You say you had a job with the county,” Shorter said, referencing Winfield’s four years as attorney for the Warren County Board of Supervisors. “I’ve worked with the county, I’ve worked with (U.S. Rep.) Bennie Thompson,” Shorter continued, at one point calling Winfield, a fellow Vicksburg native, a “Johnny-come-lately” to current issues.

“I advise you not to call me a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ again,” said Winfield, who was an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention last summer and serves as treasurer of the Mississippi Democratic Party.

Young stuck to previous themes of careful examination of all 26 city departments before making changes to supervisory personnel, including the police department. The city’s recreation department, which was derided by all three candidates as woefully short of manpower and resources, needed a return to a more neighborhood-based emphasis, Young said.

“Recreation cannot be a business. It’s supposed to be for the community,” Young said.

Young singled out the city’s emergency management department as “double-dipping” because the entity already exists on the county level.

All three remained lockstep on what they described as selective code enforcement by the city buildings and inspections department, though Young added a caveat that she believed “building inspectors are doing their jobs.”

Tourism spending should remain a high priority, Winfield said, adding he was for “innovation” and “free enterprise” in the area, with limited city involvement in the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. Shorter said advertising on Vicksburg’s key tourism attractions such as restaurants, bed and breakfasts and the casinos should be left up to the individual businesses and not the VCVB.

Polls at 11 area precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, with a runoff scheduled for May 19 if one of the candidates does not receive more than 50 percent of the votes. The winner will face Leyens on a June 2 ballot.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at