JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - An interesting moment during Thursday night’s first Jackson mayoral debate when one candidate said he didn’t actually want to be the mayor.
The surprising answer came from Ponto Downing, the only Republican running for mayor, after he was asked what his leadership style was like.
“How would you lead people through crisis?” asked moderator Donna Ladd. “What do you see your role as as people are going through very difficult issues?”
Downing, who describes himself as a “Jew by blood Jesus freak,” responded, “Well, if I can be candid, I don’t want to be the mayor of Jackson. Not at all. My next step is to run for congress. But the motivation for running for congress is making Jackson clean and safe.”
The candidate said that he would “like somebody else to do the work” because he is 77 years old. “I want to play golf,” he added, “but I’m not gonna stand by and let this city continue to decay- which it has under [Mayor] Antar [Lumumba].”
Downing then said that if Mayor Lumumba would renounce his Democratic Party affiliation, he could continue to be the mayor. “I’ll just be a fundraiser,” Downing stated.
A tense moment would take place in the last ten minutes of the debate when moderator Dr. D’Andra Orey asked for closing remarks from each of the three candidates who participated in the debate.
“I’m gonna give you all two minutes a piece to give some closing remarks as to why you would like to be mayor or, for Mr. Downing, congressman,” Orey joked.
“You and Donna like to pick on an old, white guy who’s been in Jackson for 77 years,” Downing responded.
“You said you wanted to be a congressman,” Orey said back.
“No, the congressman is to make Jackson clean and safe,” Downing said. “It’s probably gonna have to take an act of congress to make this city clean and safe!”
After this, Downing said that the odds of him becoming mayor are “100 to 1,” adding that, “I’m not stupid.”
“I’ve gotta run for congress next year. I’m hoping that he’s gonna do something, but I’m not expecting it,” he said while motioning towards Lumumba. “Not at all.”
Lumumba would not address that accusation directly, instead using his closing remarks to say that “you can’t make comments that have no substance to them” and recounting what he sees as the successes of his administration, including more paved roads securing the largest financial settlement in the city’s history.
Watch that exchange below: