Miss. — Down here in the Deep South, calls to bring back the hanging noose are coming from an unlikely source: a 62-year-old, black Republican mayoral candidate in Mississippi’s largest city.
Long-shot George Lambus acknowledges his inflammatory platform has made some residents of Jackson slam doors in his face. Others walked out of a church where he spoke. Yet he insists his tough stand is welcome in some quarters of a state capital racked by crime, much of it black-on-black.
As the only GOP hopeful among nearly a dozen Democrats and four independents, his chances of winning the June election are slim: the majority-black city of about 180,000 is so heavily Democratic that no Republican has won the mayor’s race in modern history. Yet, Lambus hopes to stand out in a crowded field by packing a silver pistol and talking bluntly about crime.
“Crime can only be alleviated by a noose and a stout tree limb,” Lambus wrote in one of several homemade flyers he passes out in Jackson neighborhoods. “I will provide the noose and when the economy improves, I will get the jobs here.”
The Mississippi Republican Party is not supporting Lambus. GOP Chairman Brad White said Lambus’ message doesn’t reflect “the values that we represent.”
“He’s already the novelty candidate,” explained Leslie Burl McLemore, the city council president.
Still, anti-crime campaigns have resonated in Jackson in recent years: incumbent Mayor Frank Melton won a landslide victory in 2005 on promises to get tough. The mayor even went armed on security patrols through tough neighborhoods. He is now charged with federal civil rights violations for allegedly leading a sledgehammer attack on a suspected crack house.
With his federal trial set to start days after the May 5 primary, Melton’s stand provoked such an uproar that several challengers are vying to unseat him. Yet Melton’s 2005 pledge to run the “thugs” out of town seems mild in comparison to Lambus’ calls for hangings and vigilante justice.
“Look at recent history, like in South Africa, when apartheid was abolished,” Lambus said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “Blacks went on a crime spree. Other blacks got tired of it … and they formed vigilantes and they killed people. It brought the crime down.”
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His pistol nearby as he peered out a window at his decaying Jackson neighborhood, Lambus added: “When you cut your yard, carry a gun. When you go to church, carry a gun. When you go to school, carry a gun.”
Lambus also asserts that executions are the only way to control crime, adding “If we look at the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s driven with blood.”
Some are offended by such bold talk from Lambus, a former union official who said he has battled illness, lives off Social Security and ran unsuccessfully for the state senate and city council in the 1980s.
“I don’t think anybody in their right mind is going to pay any attention to this guy,” said Jackson resident Vernon Archer, a former college professor in his 60s, who is black. “It’s offensive, but it’s so ridiculous you don’t even know how to get mad.”
Still, Lambus has been invited to at least two debates in April. And as the lone GOP candidate, Lambus is expected to automatically advance as the Republican candidate while Democrats and independents jockey and jostle in the May primary to decide who reaches the June ballot.
Lambus lives not far from the suspected crackhouse that Melton, as mayor, is charged with damaging in a vigilante raid in August 2006. Lambus charges that Melton was showboating and didn’t live up to his promise to clean up the city’s crime.
It’s not clear if Melton will be on the ballot. He is suing a Democratic committee for removing his name over alleged residency problems.
Political scientist Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government, said the Republicans have shied away from fielding a serious contender for mayor.
“They’re being fairly realistic because of what the numbers say,” Wiseman said. “Jackson’s voting patterns, I would assume, are going to mimic those of African-Americans in state elections, which has stayed around 90 percent or more Democratic.”
And Wiseman said Lambus’ message will not help his chances, adding “certainly someone that confrontational has no chance whatsoever.”