- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Campaigns are gearing up in some Mississippi cities, even though elections for mayors, aldermen and city council members are a year away in most places.

Jackson is likely to see one of the hardest-fought contests for chief executive. Two well-known politicians, Robert Graham and Chokwe Antar Lumumba, said last week that they will try to unseat first-term Democratic Mayor Tony Yarber, and more are likely to enter the race.

Graham worked 35 years for the Jackson Police Department and has been a Hinds County supervisor since 2007. Lumumba is an attorney and son of the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a human rights lawyer who served on the City Council before winning Jackson’s top job in 2013.

The elder Lumumba died in February 2014 after almost eight months in office, and his son was among the candidates in a special election to fill the rest of the four-year term. Yarber, a minister and City Council member, won that race but has dealt with a plethora of difficult issues in the city of 171,000, including water-quality problems and aging infrastructure. In a city with a 79 percent black population, the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win the general election for mayor.

In Hattiesburg, Democratic Mayor Johnny DuPree has already said he intends to seek a fifth term in 2017 - and if that election cycle is anything like the last one, he won’t have it easy. After DuPree won the June 2013 election, Republican candidate Dave Ware challenged the outcome. A judge cited voting irregularities and ordered a new election in September 2013. DuPree again defeated Ware.

During this term, DuPree has been sued by City Council members who said he was too slow to appoint a police chief and department leaders in the city of 47,000.

Bill Luckett, the Democratic mayor of Clarksdale, told The Associated Press on Friday that he plans to seek a second term in 2017. He said tourism is thriving with travelers from Australia, England and other countries who are seeking an authentic Mississippi Delta blues experience.

“We’re continuing to enjoy downtown revitalization and rejuvenation,” said Luckett, an attorney who co-owns a blues club with actor Morgan Freeman.

Luckett lost the 2011 Democratic primary for governor to DuPree, but he won all four wards in the 2013 city election. He is an anomaly in Mississippi politics - a white mayor in a city with a 79 percent black population.

Former state Rep. Chuck Espy told the AP in a separate interview Friday that he hasn’t ruled out running for mayor of Clarksdale next year. He lost to Luckett in the 2013 Democratic primary in a race to succeed his father, Henry Espy, who was the city’s first black mayor and served 28 years.

“I have a lot of soul searching to do and a lot of talking to do with the people of Clarksdale,” said Chuck Espy, who served 16 years in the state House and chose not to seek another term in 2015.

“Whoever is elected, they have to listen and hear the 80 percent of African-Americans that live in town,” Espy said of the mayor’s contest. “That 80 percent has not been heard.”

Luckett countered: “I don’t ever look at race. I try to be fair to everybody.”

He removed the Mississippi flag from Clarksdale City Hall last July, saying he believes its Confederate battle emblem is divisive. Although he has been criticized by flag supporters, Luckett said last week he wishes he had removed it sooner.

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Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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