City campaigns should heat up soon

Published 10:02 am Friday, October 28, 2016

Wednesday night, I watched a classic political movie, “The Last Hurrah” featuring Spencer Tracy playing the role of Frank Skeffington, an old school politician who made his way through the ranks of the local political machine to become mayor and seeking his fifth and final term.

It reminded me of my experiences covering local government over the past 40 years, and was a prime example of the saying “All politics is local,” meaning what’s most important is what affects me and the guy next door.

Frank Skeffington didn’t worry about the national scene. He worried about people having jobs, about helping the citizens of the town and improving it.

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I began my career covering local government in Plaquemine, La., where I worked as a reporter during my senior year of college. The meetings were packed, they were raucous, and there was always someone chewing out the mayor or the council.

Local politics to me has always been interesting. It’s more personal, because the incumbents and the challengers all know each other and their skeletons, it can be more viscous than anything on a higher level, and it can be a lot of fun.

When I first went to work in Plaquemine, I covered sports. A bit later, I began covering city council meetings and meetings of the Iberville Parish Police Jury (then the equivalent to the board of supervisors), and I was hooked.

“What is the number one spectator sport in America?” Skeffington asked his nephew Adam, the sports columnist. After Adam fumbled around for an answer, his uncle told him, “It’s politics.”

Except during football season, politics in Louisiana holds that position. The state’s papers are now full of stories about U.S. Senate and House races. Local radio stations are broadcasting ads for local candidates.

There’s something about watching your local government in action that is fascinating, and if you watch it enough, you wonder how the city can survive. Locally, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen seem to be rather successful running Vicksburg despite the dinosaur form of municipal government we live under. It’s only a shame more people don’t attend the meetings.

And things will start getting better.

The present board’s term in office expires June 30, which means between January, a primary, a runoff and a general election, a new trio of officials could be sworn in (to be sworn at later) during ceremonies July 1.

Qualifying begins the first of the year, and it will mean a series of speeches, neighborhood visits, push cards in doors and debates where the challengers get to take their shots at the incumbents. And once again, “All politics is local” will again be the message as the candidates all try to solicit our votes.

I enjoy covering local government because I like the challenge of making heads or tails of what’s going on and trying to determine how an official will vote or react. And the campaigns will be fun.

John Surratt is a staff writer at The Vicksburg Post. You may reach him at