In Forefront this week, Ingrid Norton brought you the story of Frank Melton, the late onetime mayor of Jackson. Norton’s story narrated the controversial gun-strapped millionaire’s rise and fall, with an eye to the changing nature of black political leadership in the Mississippi capital.
Throughout the piece, Norton mentions the work of some civic leaders who have stepped up to try leading Jackson in the wake of Melton’s death (he had suffered a fatal heart attack upon losing his reelection in 2009).
Among them is Jonathan Lee, a local business owner who recently announced his plans to run for mayor. He will likely challenge incumbent Harvey Johnson, Jr., who had replaced Melton four years after Melton had ousted him. Johnson hasn’t yet announced his bid for reelection this year, though observers expect him to.
Some background on Lee, from Norton’s story:
Jonathan Lee, the 34-year-old head of Mississippi Products, a Jackson-based medical supply company, and a former chair of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, is attuned to his generation’s responsibility for the city’s future… Lee is eloquent on Mississippi’s legacy of racism and on Jackson’s continued problems — from black skepticism of the suburbs and a fraught relationship with the legislature to the persistent wealth gap between blacks and whites. But since he was a teenager, Lee says, he has seen Jackson go from being a dying city to one that has a chance of coming back.?
Reached by phone, Lee said he wants to see a city government that acknowledges how the various issues facing Jackson — crime, education, population loss, abundant vacant properties and so on — are all connected, and takes a holistic approach to dealing with them. Improving the public school system, for instance, would attract residents and stem population loss.
Lee also mentioned that he thinks the city should take a more active role in implementing various crime prevention measures.
“The strategy of the current administration is to continue to deny that crime is a problem,” said Lee. His complaint carries echoes of a Jackson from back before 2005, when voters saw Harvey Johnson, Jr., then serving his first term, as not taking an aggressive enough stance on certain issues. They put their faith instead in the tough-talking, vigilantism-prone Melton — at least at first.
Many eventually came to see that decision as a little impetuous, to put it mildly. Toward the end of her story, Norton writes:
It is common for young black leaders to praise Harvey Johnson’s competence in stabilizing the fragile city, especially after Melton, but to also assert that in coming years, leaders will need a stronger vision for the city and a greater willingness to form creative, diverse partnerships. Developing this will take time; if there is anything to be learned from Jackson’s first two black mayors, it is that real change requires leadership that is insistent and strong as well as patient.
Jacksonians will have the chance to choose who they think is that strong and patient leader in June of next year.