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Candidates say race factor as voters head to polls

[06/04/01] Vicksburg’s candidates for mayor say they hope race will not be the determining factor in how people vote Tuesday, but know it’s on many voters’ minds.

Race relations throughout Vicksburg and how race will play out at the polls has been a topic of discussion, both publicly and privately, since before the first candidate signed up to be on the ballot.

The four candidates vying for mayor, two black and two white, said they agree race should not be an issue in electing city officials.

“I hope not,” said Laurence Leyens. “The feedback I have been getting is that in this particular election (race) will not,” be a factor.

An independent candidate for mayor, Leyens, 37, a former insurance executive and now a developer, said the most important issue in the campaign should be getting government back into the hands of the community.

With Vicksburg’s population split 60 percent black and 40 percent white according to the 2000 Census, most of the candidates agree that getting support across racial lines would be essential to winning.

Incumbent Mayor Robert Walker, 57, who won the Democratic nomination on May 1, has made resolving racial tension his No. 1 campaign promise.

At a political forum last week, Walker said he has begun working to create a Mayor’s Commission on Race and Human Relations. The first step, he said, was a meeting last month with ministers and business and community leaders. “I think the most important issue in the campaign is the candidate’s qualifications to lead city government,” Walker said.

Walker is seeking his third full term as mayor.

Former mayor Joe Loviza, 61, who describes his position in Tuesday’s race as an “outside chance,” said getting support from both black and white voters is how he believes he can win.

“If we can get this thing to where we can get people of opposite race supporting the candidate of their choice without regard of their race looking at qualification, then I would have a chance,” Loviza said.

Loviza, who served one term from 1993 to 1997 and describes himself as having blue-collar roots and a white-collar education, said his chances will depend largely on voter turnout.

“If those working folks who have historically supported me go to the polls, I’ve got a chance,” Loviza said.

Eva Marie Ford, 63, City Hall information officer, retired family nurse practitioner and clinic administrator, said the most important issue in the mayor’s race should be the people of the community and the economy, but that race will probably be a bigger factor.

“That’s what it should be, but what it is is race,” Ford said. “I think that there is a major racial barrier and this is what I am more concerned about at this point.”

She said that she believes many people will go to the polls Tuesday and vote for candidates because of their color, but that she hopes they will consider the qualifications of the candidate first.

“We can’t resolve these other issues if we can’t work together,” Ford said. “All else is not going to work unless we are all together.”

Under Vicksburg’s form of government, the mayor shares power equally with two aldermen, elected from wards.

In the North Ward alderman’s race, both candidates are black. Incumbent Gertrude Young, 45, won the Democratic nomination in party primaries and is seeking her third term. She faces independent candidate Sylvester Walker, 40, a wallpaper contractor.

In the South Ward, the race features two white candidates and two black candidates.

Republican Sidney H. Beauman Jr., 52, director of the city’s parks and recreation department, and Democrat Pam Johnson, 35, owner of a hair salon, won their party nominations in the primaries and will face independent candidates Ashlea Mosley, 18, and Vickie Bailey, 33, assistant director of the city’s youth services.

In municipal elections four years ago, 8,867 ballots were cast. Poll books list 17,603 people as eligible to vote. Returns from the May 1 primary elections indicate that 6,229 voters cast ballots.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., for voting in the city’s three races. Results will be available on cable channel 23 and the city’s Web site.

Local radio stations WBBV 101.3 FM and WQBC 1420 AM will also carry live coverage from City Hall after polls close.

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