I was fortunate to have long, involved conversations with both candidates, and I appreciate their giving me their time. It's too bad that every voter cannot have that opportunity. However, for the first time, voters will have the chance to ask their own questions of the candidates. The Natchez Democrat is giving us the opportunity to question them online on Friday, at 2:30 pm for Graning and 3:30 pm for Middleton. I this is a wonderful service being offered, and I will be curious to see how it goes.
I learned a lot during my conversations. One thing I can predict for sure. Whoever wins the election, Natchez will have a much better administration than in the past four years. Although not obvious at first, voters have a choice between two very different candidates.
- Involve the public
- Act in public
- Obey the law
- Handle our money responsibly
- Manage our government
They both support these principles and agreed to abide by them. One reason for the defeat of our current Mayor is that voters did not see any of these principles at work. Both candidates see the desire for an open, honest, law abiding, efficient, and effective city government.Each candidate's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Chick Graning is not a politician, and Jake Middleton is experienced with city government and politics. Most voters believe not being a politician is an advantage, although I don't always agree - especially in an administrative position.
Chick will bring a fresh and different point of view to the job. His enthusiasm is obvious, and you feel he will really love his job. He would make meetings of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen more interesting and lively, for which I'd be eternally grateful. You'll be more likely to get a straight answer from Chick, because he hasn't learned "politicospeak" yet. He'll be more courageous in making difficult decisions, because he won't be focused on the effect on his next election. However, Chick's knowledge of how government works is limited, and I worry this might restrict his effectiveness. Contrary to public opinion, government cannot be run like a business - they operate based on very different principles.
Jake is definitely an experienced politician. As such, he is knowledgeable about how the city works, and that is valuable information for a Mayor. This is not knowledge you can gain by reading a book, and it is painful to learn on the job. He will definitely have the edge on effectiveness and efficiency. On the other hand, this knowledge brings a certain cynicism and may restrain creativity.
Chick and Jake have totally different personalities that will effect their leadership style. Just look at their signs: Jake's are quiet and dignified, while Chick's demand your attention. Chick is obviously a better speaker, more charismatic, and he will lead by inspiration. Jake is more methodical, less confrontational, and will lead by developing consensus.
Jake's biggest negative is that he was a part of the previous administration and can be held responsible for its actions. When asked about it, he said he saw no need to fight losing battles, and he picked his fights. This is reflective of his personality traits of avoiding controversy and trying to make everybody happy. I see Chick as a little like a bull in a china shop. He will have no hesitation to charge right into a fight - even if he has to break some dishes. He may plan less and be less careful, but you'll know he tried.
During the past four years, the Board of Aldermen has run amok. The Mayor just let them do whatever they wanted at meetings, rarely intervening. I asked both candidates about this, and they agreed things would be different, although the changes they'll make will reflect their styles. For example, Jake will depend more on rules, and Chick will be more personally involved.
There is a perceived conflict in this town between historic preservation and economic development. This is a false dichotomy, since with proper leadership, these efforts can complement each other, and both candidates see this. However, in a tough choice, I think Jake would side with economic development and Chick with historic preservation. Both candidates have ideas and visions for moving Natchez forward - some creative and some less so. But the public will know about these ideas and will be involved in their implementation. I think they both understand the importance of the community in any project's success.
I admire Chick for focusing on education, because this is a long term priority, with visible results likely to come after he leaves office. I feel more comfortable with Jake when it comes to managing the City's finances. Not only has he managed the finances of a successful business, but he's been dealing with the City's finances for years.
They both have a serious shortcoming - neither is very technologically inclined. This is too bad, since technology could be the future for Natchez, with some leadership. We can only hope they will delegate this responsibility to a competent and creative employee or advisor.
Finally, there's my personal criteria for evaluating male candidates - their wives. Both candidates have married strong, intelligent, professional women, which says a lot to me on their behalf. I don't know Mitzi Middleton well, but I can say that I love Lil Graning - she'll keep City Hall lively and entertaining.