After nearly a year of campaigning and three elections, incumbent Mayor Johnny DuPree was re-elected mayor of Hattiesburg Saturday after votes from Tuesday’s special election were tallied.
After days of counting and verifying ballots at City Hall, the final vote tally placed DuPree ahead of Ware by 207 votes. DuPree had 7,512 votes over Ware’s 7,305, leaving DuPree’s supporters feeling victorious.
Independent challenger Dave Ware issued a statement saying he wouldn’t challenge the election results. He also congratulated DuPree on his election win.
“After a long and hard fought campaign, a very difficult legal challenge and an unanticipated special election, Hattiesburg finally has a mayor. Congratulations to Mr. DuPree on his victory,” Ware said Saturday at his campaign headquarters.
DuPree supporters gathered at City Hall both in the Council Chambers and on the steps of City Hall. After the final tally was read, DuPree addressed his supporters and thanked them for their support.
“My family and I thank you all so much… This is really about the future of Hattiesburg,” he said.
DuPree supporter and Hattiesburg Public Schools employee Angela White Carter said she is excited the process over.
“We just trusted God for Him to do the right thing. That’s all, we just trusted God to do the right thing,” Carter said.
“It’s just history. It’s history for my grand kids and for all of us,” she said.
DuPree said changes should be made to Hattiesburg’s election laws.
“We need to look at the way we do absentee ballots,” he said. “We need to make sure we get early voting because that’s what we need to have. That’s what the citizens deserve. It doesn’t need to be so cumbersome for people to go vote.”
After DuPree spoke, his campaign manager, Rev. Kenneth Fairley spoke to the crowd of DuPree supporters regarding Hattiesburg media’s election coverage.
“We want to make it clear that sensationalized reporting, failure to accurately investigate will not be tolerated,” Fairley said.
Supporters shouted in agreement that the election’s media coverage was not acceptable.
“The media incited a lot of the tensions that occurred in this community,” Fairley said in a private interview. “… They reported things that were not true… We work hard to get people out to vote, not to cheat. We don’t do that. But that’s the picture that was painted through the media, and we have no source to get the truth out.”
White agreed that something needs to be done about media coverage of the election.
“It’s been horrible. They’re portraying something that has not been. (DuPree) is a humble man, he does not believe in back-fighting… They’ve taken things and turned it around and I think something needs to be done about it,” White said.
Fairley said the Hattiesburg community has to talk about the “tough stuff” if residents can heal from the racial tensions that Fairley felt divided the city.
“Unfortunately this has been divided closely on racial lines, and we have other issues that people refuse to talk about. As long as we don’t talk about it, we can’t heal,” Fairley said in a private interview. “We can cover it up, and it’s going to continue with the council and the mayor, and we won’t be able to move forward if we don’t stop working against each other on the racial lines.”
Dave Ware agreed that conversations regarding the election process must happen in order for the city to move forward.
“Going forward, I believe there are conversations that still must occur to restore faith in our election process,” he said at his campaign headquarter. “But these conversations must be had in an environment of mutual respect and commitment to the common good of Hattiesburg.”
DuPree has been mayor of Hattiesburg since 2001, making this his fourth term in office.