HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Three Democratic candidates are hoping to win enough votes Tuesday to move on to the general election to be Hattiesburg's next mayor.
Incumbent Mayor Johnny DuPree, Tom Garmon and Catherine Starr are vying for the top spot to represent their party in June.
Running for his fifth term, DuPree said his experience is needed to keep projects already in the works moving forward.
"There's so may projects that we have going on right now that we all worked together to make them happen," DuPree said. "There's a number of projects that we'd like to move forward on, to start, and in short order."
Along with big economic developments, like the District at Midtown, he said those projects include a handicap accessible baseball field for children with physical disabilities and an interactive, STEM-based children's museum. DuPree said both would benefit those already ready living in Hattiesburg and draw those living outside to the city.
However, Tom Garmon said change is needed.
"I want to bring honest government that serves the people of this community back to Hattiesburg," Garmon said. "The change in leadership starts at the top. That is what's most important, and we have got to change our leadership from the top down."
Garmon said his focus will be to rein in city spending to save taxpayer money.
"What we're going to do first, is we're going to save money," he said. "Waste not, want not. I was raised by a banker. I know how to save money. I know how to pinch pennies, and I know how to get the most out of our taxpayers' dollars without having to give back favors, costly favors, to political contributors."
He also wants to cut a contract with an outside company to manage Hattiesburg's lagoons and, instead, have the city mange them itself. He also wants to change the system used inside them to cut electricity costs. He said he estimates it could save as much as $2 million tax dollars.
As far as the challenges they expect to face, DuPree expects the city's budget to be a challenge.
"The finances are always a challenge, trying to make the dollars fit with the programs," he said. "Trying to make the dollars fit with what you want to do."
Garmon said new leadership in city departments is a necessity, but said righting the Hattiesburg public school system will be the biggest challenge.
"The biggest challenge that I see is we have got to fix our school system," he said. "We have teachers leaving at an alarming rate. We have a bloated administrative infrastructure that needs to be trimmed down, and we need to back our teachers in the classroom. The school system, for me, is the single most important part of our community."
DuPree agreed public schools need attention, saying community support will be an essential.
"When we all get together with our school system, we can move Hattiesburg forward," DuPree said. "Continue to move Hattiesburg forward."
Both said they love and are committed to Hattiesburg, and that is why voters should elect them.
"I think that for the time being, I'm the best person for the job," DuPree said. "We've been here. We think know know what we're doing, and I think we have a number of people in place that can continue to move Hattiesburg forward."
Garmon said, "I am the most qualified candidate. I'm not a career politician. I don't come with wealthy engineers and architects and road pavers supporting me, so that they can get contracts. I'm going to do what's best for the citizens of Hattiesburg. I'm going to save money."
Starr said she was not available for an interview Friday.
The primary election is May 2, with a primary runoff election on May 16, if needed. The general election is June 6.