Frank Melton’s legacy is that he tried

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 10, 2009

Frank Melton’s legacy should be and will be that he tried.

The Texan who moved to Mississippi’s capital city 26 years ago lost his re-election bid for a second term as mayor Tuesday, then died shortly after midnight Wednesday. Instead of what would in essence be a third trial related to the sledgehammering of a private residence he will have a funeral. It’s high drama, but the man who first attracted attention and admiration by snapping his pen into his shirt pocket to close his “bottom line” TV segments deserves to depart life with no less.

“Frank” was candid when others were mealy-mouthed. As an owner of WLBT-TV, he called drug dealers drug dealers and put their pictures on billboards. He demanded action from public officials, and shamed them if they didn’t meet his standards. As a speaker in demand for events of all types, he developed stock phrases that led to standing ovations, telling young men to give their earrings to their sisters, get an education and get a job.

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Under former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Melton changed roles from observer and commentator to actual responsibility as director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Turns out saying was more challenging than doing. It was a bumpy ride, and it didn’t get any easier when Melton was ushered into office four years ago as mayor of his adopted home town.

In private life, Melton did walk the walk he talked. He worked with dozens and dozens of young people one-to-one. It was in public life where his commandeering ways just didn’t achieve the results he wanted.

His death at 60 years of age has brought out Melton’s admirers and hushed his critics. An acquittal in state court and a mistrial in federal court were behind him, but a new trial loomed. People remain divided over whether the criminal indictments were prosecution or persecution, but we should all agree that no person is above the law — even Frank Melton. Now his days are over, and this much must be said: His intentions were good. And he tried.