June 4, 2013 9:38:31 AM
Starkville emerged this election cycle as a key battleground between Mississippi's Democratic and Republican parties, and officials are eyeing success in today's municipal race.
Incumbent Mayor Parker Wiseman, a Democrat, faces GOP challenger Dan Moreland today for control of the city's top position. Polls opened at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
The winner takes office July 1.
Both Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole and Republican Party Political Director J.D. Griffin say their respective groups are making an 82-county push for undecided mayoral and alderman seats, but Starkville's highest elected position is a feather in the cap both parties desire.
Other municipal elections garnering state-level attention include mayoral races in Tupelo, Meridian, Ocean Springs and Southaven.
The three-way race for Columbus mayor, which pits Democratic incumbent Robert Smith against Republican Glenn Lautzenhiser and Independent Bo Jarrett has not drawn much attention from state Republican or Democratic parties.
New leadership is guaranteed in Tupelo where Republican Fred Pitts, who leads that city's elected board, faces political newcomer Jason Shelton, a Democrat. Mayor Jack Reed Jr. declined in November to run for a second term.
Three incumbents - a Democrat, Republican and independent - face re-election challenges in Meridian, Ocean Springs and Southaven. Cheri Berry, Meridian's sitting Republican leader, is challenged by Democrat Percy Bland and independents Wally Hundall and Walter Patton, while Former state treasurer candidate and two-term Democratic Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran squares off today against Republican Jackson County Supervisor John McKay. Southaven's mayor, independent Greg Davis, seeks a fifth term as he runs against Republican Darren Musselwhite and Democrat Coria Williams.
Both parties have flexed their muscles for Starkville's candidates. Gov. Phil Bryant recently attended a Moreland fund-raiser in May, and U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper formally endorsed the challenger in advertisements. Former Gov. William Winter also stumped for Wiseman during a previous fund-raiser for the incumbent. Cole and Griffin both said their respective party's candidate is the right leader for Starkville.
"When we have a great candidate with a lot of experience who has support in Republican and Democratic households - all kinds of folks in Starkville - certainly that's a race the state party takes a look at," Griffin said.
"In time, voters know our candidates in all of these marquee races can be real contenders for higher office in time. We're doing our part to be a competitive party in a two-party system, and we're doing it with quality," Cole added.
By the numbers
Wiseman defeated then-GOP mayoral candidate Marnita Henderson in 2009 by almost 700 votes. Henderson, who received 40.5 percent of the citywide vote, received more ballots in Ward 1 - 426-392 - but Wiseman had significant leads in Wards 4 (177-55) 6 (280-57) and 7 (284-52). In Wards 2 and 3, Wiseman topped Henderson by about 70 votes in each race, while he also clinched Ward 5 by about 50 votes.
While only 3,854 voters cast ballots in the 2009 mayoral election, 13,069 Starkville residents are eligible to cast citywide ballots in this year's race. The number of registered voters by ward is as follows: Ward 1, 1,922; Ward 2, 1,723; Ward 3, 2,137; Ward 4, 1,781; Ward 5, 1,858; Ward 6, 1,844; Ward 7, 1,831.
City officials collected 265 absentee ballots - about two percent of the vote - prior to Saturday's deadline.
Other local elections
Two other Golden Triangle mayoral races and numerous city council/alderman seats are also on the line today.
In addition to the mayor's race in Columbus, the Ward 2 seat is also up for grabs as voters will decide between incumbent Democrat Joseph Mickens and Republican Susan Mackay, who was unseated by Mickens in an extremely close election in 2008.
Caledonia's mayoral race features a former city leader, Bill Lawrence, and a first-time candidate, Susan Bell. All five city alderman seats are at-large positions. Incumbents Bill Darnell, Steve Honnoll, Quinn Parham and Brenda Willis will face challengers Matt Atkins, Brenda Spotts, Charlie Underhill, David Weathers and Mitch Wiggins. Sitting Alderman Mike Savage declined a re-election bid.
Robbie Robinson, a Democrat, will succeed two-term West Point Mayor Scott Ross after his victory in the May 7 primary. Ross declined to seek re-election.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
1. Police release more details on cold case murder arrest COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Having a voice: Tyler Edmonds seeks compensation from Mississippi for three years he spent in prison COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Cold case arrest brings closure to family COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Officers reflect on a city rattled by a series of murders in the '90s COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY