Lumumba calls out critics of city’s response to water crisis

Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 12:27 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba took an opportunity at a Tuesday press conference to discuss what he said has been misinformation in the city’s handling of what he called an “act of God.”

The press conference was called to give an update on Jackson’s water crisis. However, the mayor went “off script” to respond to those criticizing the administration’s handling of it.

The mayor was particularly critical of some members of the city council and the media, which questioned whether he had been in talks with state leaders regarding the water crisis.

The conference came as thousands of residents are still dealing with low or no water pressure, and as the city remains under a state of civil emergency.

“This crisis we are in the midst of is an act of God and was not caused through incompetence; it was not a failure to act from any individuals and was not a failure to act from the administration.”

To back up that point, he said other cities across the Southeast are facing similar problems and pointed to Houston, Austin, Shreveport, Vicksburg, and Canton as examples.

“There was an act of God – extreme weather that sent our old systems into havoc and caused this trauma for our residents,” he said.

“As I said yesterday, most people don’t care how a watch works, they just want it to tell time. People look at our administration, the people in charge, (and say) when I can’t bathe, when I can’t take my medicine, when I’m dealing with dialysis, I just need a solution because I’m in trouble and I’m in pain, and that’s where we’re trying to focus.”

Much of the time at Tuesday’s press conference, though, was not spent discussing when water would be restored, but the political in-fighting among city leaders.

“I hear the things that are said, the outlandish statements, and I ignore them time and again because someone has to be a grown-up in the room,” the mayor said. “It isn’t helpful to make it a political discussion and make it a fight.”

The mayor was particularly critical of Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who called out the mayor at an emergency council meeting Monday.

On Monday, Stokes questioning why a tanker of non-potable water had not been set up in his ward. He said his residents were suffering and the city needed to do something about it.

Lumumba fired back Tuesday, saying the administration has done more than Stokes had to the people of Ward Three.

“You can’t stand in front of people and say how you’ve given away 10 cases of water,” Lumumba said. “I’ve personally given out more than 10 pallets of water. If you saw me on camera, it’s the media who have found me. I’m usually going to the elderly and to senior homes in Stokes’ ward, delivering water to them and to their doorsteps and also into their homes.

The mayor added that he could “sooner get in contact with the governor than I can with the councilperson for Ward Three. When it takes for me to literally go to his house to talk about how I can help his residents, that is what takes place.”

Stokes was critical of the mayor, in part, for not putting a tanker of non-potable water in his ward. The mayor, though, said the city had not put a tanker there because one was not immediately available.

As of Tuesday, one had been stationed in the ward at Walton Elementary School, located at 3200 Bailey Ave. Water will be distributed until 6 p.m. Tuesday and between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. the rest of the week.

“There were no tankers available to us. We had been in communication with MEMA throughout the process. We gave what we had. We gave what we could find,” he said.

He said cities across the country, including Atlanta, were reaching out to help Jackson. However, the road conditions were such that assistance could not be brought in.

In other cases, he said some companies were trying to take advantage of the crisis to make money, something else that also stymied the city’s efforts.

The mayor also addressed media reports that questioned whether he had been in contact with the governor.

On Monday, the mayor said he had been in contact with Gov. Tate Reeves. Reeves, though, told media outlets that he had not heard from Lumumba.

“To to the extent that it’s relevant, I called the governor from my office phone,” Lumumba said. “I’ve chronicled time and time again (that it has) been a challenge to communicate with him.”

He went on to say that when he can’t reach the governor, the mayor reaches out to the governor’s chief of staff. However, Lumumba said he had been unable to get the chief of staff on the phone Monday morning.

“I learned that he, the chief of staff, was dealing with a personal circumstance and he texted me and said he apologized for that,” he said.

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