The mayor of Mississippi’s largest city died early Thursday, less than two days after losing a re-election bid in a contentious Democratic primary that came a week before his second federal trial. He was 60.
Mayor Frank Melton died peacefully at 12:10 a.m. at a Jackson hospital with his wife by his side, city spokeswoman Goldia Revies told The Associated Press.
Melton, who had a history of serious heart problems, was taken to the hospital from his home by ambulance on Tuesday night, shortly after polls closed.
At an emergency meeting Wednesday, the City Council tapped its president, Leslie Burl McLemore, to be acting mayor.
Unofficial results show Melton came in fourth of nine candidates. The top two finishers — Harvey Johnson, the former mayor Melton unseated in 2005, and city Councilman Marshand Crisler — advanced to a May 19 runoff.
Next week, a second trial was set to start for Melton and a former bodyguard, who each faced two federal civil rights charges related to a sledgehammer attack on a duplex on Aug. 26, 2006, that Melton considered a crackhouse.
A judge declared a mistrial in the first case in February after a jury failed to reach a verdict.
Melton had a serious heart condition that sent him to the hospital several times in recent years, including for bypass surgery.
Melton’s first federal trial was postponed while he was treated for his heart condition and he looked gaunt and tired through much of that trial. His doctor testified at the time that he was in “end stage cardiomyopathy.” She said she recommended a heart transplant, but Melton refused to get on a donor list.
He and the bodyguard, Jackson police officer Michael Recio, were both acquitted in April 2007 on state charges related to the raid.
Melton came to Mississippi from Tyler, Texas, in the 1980s to run NBC affiliate WLBT-TV. He soon made a name for himself with an opinion piece called “The Bottom Line” in which he called out criminals and verbally attacked city officials he considered ineffective.
“And that, my friends, is the bottom line,” became his catchphrase.
His wife, a pediatrician, and his two children stayed behind in Texas, prompting vicious rumors about his personal life. Melton brushed aside criticism, and did things his own, sometimes unusual way.
He became a fixture in poor neighborhoods, where he would talk to youngsters about personal accountability and hard work. He tried to broker a cease fire among gangs and volunteered as a swim instructor at an area YMCA.
He was elected by a landslide in 2005 after campaigning on a tough-on-crime platform. Since then, however, he was hounded by legal problems related to his unorthodox tactics.
Prosecutors say he was drunk on scotch and power when he ordered a group of young men — some with criminal records — to destroy the duplex in a poor neighborhood. Melton said he was only trying rid the city of a drug den.