In the last fifty-two years, the city of Jackson has had a total of three mayors. Robert Conger was mayor from 1967 to 1989. Charles Farmer succeeded him and served until 2007. That same year, Jerry Gist transitioned from county mayor to city mayor and will step down later this summer when Jackson elects a new mayor.
There are a few possible reasons that only three men have held the most important position in the city over the course of half a century. One reason could be that the success of the city was so great that citizens continued to vote for the incumbent until the incumbent chose to step down from the position. Another reason could be that we, as residents, like the familiarity of the same person in that position for as long as we can keep him there. Or, sadly, maybe our city does not turn out new voters, and the same voters continue to elect the same people term after term after term.
Regardless of the reason or combination of reasons, in a few short months Jackson will elect its fourth mayor since 1967, a decision that could change the landscape of our community, potentially for many years to come.
Two years ago, I served on the city’s charter review committee. The city charter is essentially Jackson’s version of the Constitution. In combing through pages and pages of laws and by-laws, the one thing that stuck out to me the most was the absolute power the position of mayor has when it comes to governing our city. The mayor is responsible for every decision-making process in Jackson. This lies in stark contrast to the position of county mayor, which is buffered (and mostly controlled) by the county commission. The position of city mayor is one of pure autonomy—for better or worse.
In July, a new person will enter the third-floor office of city hall and take his or her seat behind a desk and begin the duties as mayor of Jackson. Each of the five candidates would bring something different to the position. Scott Conger would bring youth and vitality and a familial pedigree to the office along with his background on the city council. Jimmy Eldridge has years of experience of governing at the state level. Vicky Foote has the knowledge of the inner-workings of city government from her time on the city council—not to mention that she would also be the first female mayor of Jackson. Mark Johnstone would bring his history as a small business owner and his experience on the county commission. And Dr. Jerry Woods was a superintendent in both Tennessee and Arkansas and would be Jackson’s first African-American mayor. Each candidate has something that should excite us as a community.
Beyond their resumes and platforms, though, our city wants to know their stories. Every citizen has a #stay731 story, and these mayoral candidates are no exception. We live here. We work here. We raise families here. Some of us have spent our entire lives in Jackson. We drive on its roads, walk in its parks, and attend its schools. We tattoo our lives into the fabric of our community. Our stories are interspersed throughout Jackson, from Bemis to Northside. When platforms and political jargon are stripped away, what’s left? Who are the candidates? More importantly, what are their stories?
Over the month of April, Our Jackson Home is giving each candidate the opportunity to tell his or her story. These are not articles about campaign promises or political theater; these are, more than anything, love stories—stories about why a person connects so much with a city that they would invest time and money for the chance at the most influential position in the town. What are their memories of Jackson? How has Jackson helped mold them into who they are today?
In the end, these candidates’ stories are also our stories. We hope that you enjoy this unique chance to get to know them at a deeper level and that you are encouraged to cast your vote for our city’s next mayor.
Gabe Hart is an English and Language Arts teacher at Northeast Middle School. He was born and raised in Jackson, graduating from Jackson Central-Merry in 1997 and Union University in 2001. Gabe enjoys spending time and traveling with his daughter, Jordan, who is eight years old. His hobbies include reading, writing, and playing sports . . . even though he’s getting too old for the last one. Gabe lives in Midtown Jackson and has a desire to see all of Jackson grow together.