March 11, 2013 10:03:07 AM
One of the four candidates for Columbus mayor said late Sunday night that he intends to withdraw from the race only two days after filing his paperwork to qualify.
Willie Petty Jr., a Democrat, would have faced incumbent mayor Robert Smith in the May 7 primary election.
But at 10 p.m. Sunday night, Petty announced his withdrawal, saying he had received a threatening phone call earlier in the day that caused him to change his mind. He declined to name the caller, saying only that the individual asked him who he thought he was to try to run for office in Columbus.
"I said, 'I am a concerned individual,'" he said Sunday night. "They said, 'Why are you running?' I said, 'I think I'm qualified to make a change.'"
The caller then questioned his residency, Petty said, threatening him with arrest for "felonious activity" by running for office.
Petty, who moved to Columbus from Jackson, said he lived with his parents outside the city limits for seven months before signing a lease March 1 -- one week before filing his qualification papers.
He cited the recent death of an openly gay, black mayoral candidate in Clarksdale as another reason the threat concerned him. Marco McMillian, 34, was found dead nearly two weeks ago after his vehicle was involved in a head-on collision. His body was found beaten and burned after being dragged beneath a fence near a levee.
Petty, also 34, said he is concerned about his wife and children, as well as his eight-year banking career.
"We just saw in the Delta what happens to young political minds when they try to make a change," he said. "The cost is not worth it. I can't have people attempting to threaten me. It's already an uphill struggle. I haven't given up on the people of Columbus, but until they decide the shenanigans going on in any type of leadership is enough, we can't move forward."
He said the alleged threat confirmed his belief that he stood a chance of winning the race.
"I'm not surprised -- I anticipated it," Petty said. "I am agitated and sick to my stomach that because somebody might think I have a chance, they've got to extinguish that light as soon as they can. There's definitely a racial divide. It makes no sense to me. If you're threatening me, period, then I'm going to assume it's only going to escalate. I understand how politics can get nasty, but I haven't said anything negative. I hadn't challenged anyone's authority and said (they) aren't doing a good enough job. I just said I believed I had something to bring to the table."
Now that he has decided to withdraw from the race, Petty said he intends to leave Columbus as soon as his lease allows.
"The hardest thing in the world to do is to sit back and watch the declination of what used to be the Friendly City. I am not scared and I am not intimidated," he said. "I just have pity that some people just will not change."
Petty's withdrawal now leaves Republican Glenn Lautzenhiser and independent Bo Jarrett challenging Smith for the mayor's seat in the June 4 general election.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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