May 3, 2013 1:04:21 PM
The primaries for the municipal elections will be held Tuesday, followed by the general election June 4.
In other words, we are slap-dab in the middle of campaign season, which presents local media with an interesting dilemma: What is the difference between a news story and a campaign ploy merely disguised as news?
It is often a difficult thing to discern.
A couple of weeks ago, citizens were invited to a Ward 4 meeting where various officials discussed the projects that have been planned for the ward. It's the first time anyone could remember such a meeting in Ward 4. That it came within a month of the primary election was not lost on some residents, of course. The council race for Ward 4 is a three-man contest featuring long-time incumbent Fred Stewart and challengers Marty Turner and Maurice Webber.
Fairly or unfairly, the timing of the meeting invited speculation, which presented The Dispatch with a question: Do we cover the meeting as a news event or decline to cover it because of the possibility that the event was mainly held to promote a political campaign? Ultimately, we chose to cover the event under the theory that, possible ulterior motives aside, the projects that were being discussed are important to the people of the city in general, and to the people of Ward 4 in particular. We will trust the residents to make up their own minds about the motives behind the meeting.
I suspect there will be some of the same suspicion connected with mayor Robert Smith's "Commit To Be Fit" campaign, which he announced this week. The mayor's "Letter to the Editor" describing the campaign is printed in today's edition. In it, he points out that Columbus residents, along with Mississippians as a whole, are among the most obese, and therefore unhealthy, people in the entire country. In fact, Mississippi has been the heavyweight champion of heaviness for seven years running. In light of that, the mayor is challenging Columbus residents to lose 10,000 pounds and has vowed to shed his share of excess girth.
In this instance, residents can make up their own minds about the nature of this campaign. Mayor Smith faces two challengers for his office -- Glenn Lautzenhiser and Bo Jarrett.
It's not likely that we all got fat overnight, of course. Nor is it likely that Smith just noticed that we all got fat. Given that, the mayor's timing is at least mildly curious.
The mayor insists there is no political motive in his call for the citizens to get healthy.
From my point of view, I wish he had said that the "Commit To Be Fit'' program was part of his campaign platform. If that were the case, it would a wonderful topic for wiseacre columnists like me. I can envision two headlines, depending on your opinion of the mayor:
"Outgoing Mayor Calls Columbus a Bunch of Fat Hogs," or... "Caring Leader To Lead Columbus to Health, Happiness."
But Smith insists his motives are pure, and we are compelled to take him at his word, since there is no compelling evidence to the contrary.
So I think it is best to consider the mayor's call to get fit on its merits, which are considerable.
Obesity is a key contributing factor to any number of serious illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and stroke.
Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is a key to dramatically reducing those risks.
The mayor is challenging Columbus residents to lose 10,000 pounds collectively and encourages residents to join him on his morning walks at the Riverwalk.
Personally, if I were mayor, I would have set the figure much higher than 10,000 pounds. After all, with about 24,000 residents, each person's fair share of weight loss would be less than two pounds.
Of course, I can't remember the last time I lost even two pounds, so perhaps I am being too much of an optimist.
Of course, there is another way to account for that 10,000-pound weight loss. We could just ask some people to leave. The average weight of an American in 2012 is 176 pounds. That means to reach our goal, we'd need to run off about 57 people, fewer than that if we choose really fat people who appear to be carrying their weight instead of pulling it.
But that seems an extreme measure and one that is not in keeping with the general optimistic tone of the campaign.
So I am committed to joining the mayor in this weight-loss effort, although I'll do my walking at the Columbus Y. Feel free to join me there.
I'm pretty sure I can lose my appointed share of the weight.
But just in case, I've already started working on a list of folks we can easily do without.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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