Smith, Hudnall square off

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
April 20, 2001
Citizens peppered Mayor John Robert Smith and his Republican challenger, Wally Hudnall, with questions about economic development Thursday night at a debate sponsored by the local NAACP.
Smith pointed to numerous accomplishments made by his administration in economic development during his eight-year tenure as mayor. The mayor said 1,500 new jobs were created as a result of the Bonita Lakes Mall in which he played a key role in bringing to Meridian. Smith added that between 250 to 500 new jobs would be created through the new Wal-Mart Supercenter being constructed near the mall.
Smith said he intends to use the city's transportation amenities to attract other industries. He said he had already received assurances from Mississippi State University President Malcolm Portera that some spin-off industries from Nissan would locate here. Portera, a former economic development specialist, played a significant role in Mississippi being chosen as the site for the automotive plant.
Hudnall said he would talk to whoever he could to bring more industry to the city. Hudnall said he would be aggressive in trying to recruit Delco Remy into coming back into Meridian to fill its former building.
Hudnall said he would offer Delco slightly cheaper wage rates to lure the company back, adding that the jobs would still be high paying.
Smith claimed his office tried to entice Delco to stay in Meridian with slightly lower wages, but the national labor unions wouldn't allow the local union to sign a contract taking the decrease.
Both candidates fielded a question about what a mayor's role should be in law enforcement matters. Earlier this year Smith made a controversial decision to not prosecute a woman who filed a false report of rape.
Smith defended his actions, saying "no good" could come from the woman's public humiliation and prosecution.
As mayor, Hudnall said he would take a less active role in the legal process than Smith.
Smith and Hudnall were both asked if they would work harder to recruit more African-American owned businesses to the city.
Smith refuted claims that some African-American business owners were given a cold shoulder by city officials when they were asked about locating here.
Hudnall said he, too, would cater to anyone who had good jobs to offer city residents.
Thursday's debate was the first between Smith and Hudnall. The two will meet on May 1 in the Republican primary.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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