June 7, 2017

How a far left candidate won in a red state

Governing = When Chokwe Antar Lumumba won the Democratic primary for mayor of Jackson, Miss., last month, he was described as a "left radical" and a "radical activist" -- and that was by leftist publications like In These Times and The Nation.

People in Jackson say such labels are overstated.

"I've not seen any evidence of the radical side," says former Mayor Kane Ditto. "I've not heard any proposals that I thought were not in the mainstream."

Nonetheless, Lumumba -- who won Tuesday's general election -- has made it clear he intends to take the city in a liberal direction. He ran on a program of inclusive growth, and his mayoralty may offer striking evidence of a nationwide trend: strongly progressive policies being pushed in big cities, even in deep red states.

"He is a pretty progressive-minded person," says Councilman De'Keither Stamps.

In strongly Democratic Jackson, there was no doubt Lumumba would be elected once he won the primary. On Tuesday, he garnered 93 percent of the vote.

By contrast, incumbent Mayor Tony Yarber, who has been embroiled in sexual harassment lawsuits, took just 5 percent of the vote.

Yarber had defeated Lumumba in a special election in 2014, which was held to replace Lumumba's father, also named Chokwe. The senior Lumumba died just eight months after taking office. At the time, Yarber benefited from support from the business community. But the city clearly soured on him during his tenure.

"A lot of people looked and said we should have gone with Lumumba last time because the incumbent is terrible," says Bill Dilday, a political strategist in Jackson.

The first Mayor Lumumba had, in fact, a radical past. He was a leader in organizations that favored a separate African-American homeland within the U.S. or promoted other ideas for black self-determination.

The younger Lumumba said his parents inculcated him with social-justice values.

"They felt that giving us the movement was as important as giving us food, shelter, water and education," he told the Washington Informer, an African-American newspaper, earlier this year.

Lumumba, who is 34, has worked as a defense attorney. He is likely to follow some of his father's policies, such as holding "people's assemblies" to solicit input for city programs as well as creation of a fund to promote black-owned businesses. One of the complaints against Yarber is that contracting on his watch has been too cozy.


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