12
Jan
2017
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Bill Luckett- Co-Owner of Ground Zero blues club

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“Clarksdale is still a work in progress. I am the mayor and the co-owner of Ground Zero, so I meet a lot of people who come to town. I give them the mayor ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card or the Ground Zero ‘Dance on the Bar’ free card. I just met the Leader of the House of Lords in the UK, she is third in line to the prime minister, and her husband is the senior advisor to the Department of Defense in the UK. They came to Clarksdale, Mississippi because Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons and Paul Simon come here. Tim Hinkley of Humble Pie came here and Julia Lennon, John’s sister, comes here all of the time. The world comes here. It is phenomenal. The old rock guys bring their children here to show them where they got their musical influences. Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Costello, Dan Aykroyd have come here too. We are ground zero for delta blues.”

“I grew up in Clarkdale and the segregated south and didn’t get the 30,000 look from a distance until I went to college. I thought being well off was having a father who was a lawyer and belonging to the Clarksdale Country Club. I got to the University of Virginia and my new best friends were from Malibu, California and Park Avenue, New York. I made friends from around the world and it opened my eyes to racial inequality. Hazing was still practiced and I sat with peanut butter under my arms wearing only brief underwear on a big block of ice with my fraternity brothers shining a light in my face and telling me everything they didn’t like about me. One thing they told me was that I needed to learn more tolerant and I listened and took that to heart. I came back to Clarksdale a different person. You are what you are brought up to be. My parents were moderates, but racism was common. I came back with more compassion and tolerance and wanted to make a difference. I ran for governor in 2011 and mayor in 2013. I enjoy being mayor, but it is hard to get things accomplished. I am not a dictator, I have to be persuasive and lead by example. We are getting a lot done and there has been a big reduction in crime. We are the #1 city in Mississippi for international tourism and Ground Zero is currently ranked the #1 blues club in the country. Red’s down the street in #2. I am very proud of that in a little town of 18,000.”

“We have to start including everyone in education and economy, no matter what party we are in, and make productive citizens out of everyone. Some people don’t get it. Mississippi needs to do more than catch up to get out of the bottom of the pile in education. We need progressive leadership and that is why I ran for governor. A friend of mine at dinner one night suggested I should run and I still don’t know whether to kick him or thank him. But I thought I could help the state and ran for the right reasons. I had never run for office before and jumped in and ran for governor and was in the top 3. After I lost, I came home and rebuilt my life and law practice but people leaned on me to run for mayor. I hadn’t thought about that either, but I did it. The problem with statewide politics is the money you have to raise and how you raise it. I loved the appearances and the debates and meeting people and shaking hands and understanding their situations and how to improve their lives. But 500 days sitting in a room making an average of 175 phone calls a day begging for money is the downside. That is probably what discourages me from thinking about doing it again. I don’t know if I can do that more than once in my life. Usually, I am the one getting the calls asking for money and it was hard being on the other side. You need $5 to $7 million to run a good governor’s race, I spent about $3.5 million. The ones who win are controlled by the money. It is not a good system. Campaign finance needs an overhaul. You can elect anyone with the right amount of money. I drilled down and studied education and the schoolhouse to jailhouse problem and why 3rd-grade reading levels are important. Prisoners cost us $28,000 a year and a student costs $8,500. Prisons are a big industry. I am a social liberal and a fiscal conservative and I have always worked hard. I raked yards and sold mistletoe — 25 cents with a bow, I took it out of the tree. I was a janitor in a law office and I now own the building. I was also a house painter in law school. I believe in hard work. There a few people who genuinely need help and welfare, but the system is abused. I don’t like cheating.”

“When I was first elected, the mayor of Carthage told me what being mayor was all about three words: dogs, ditches, and garbage. He is partly correct. But being mayor is being in a position where the phone calls come to you. You do things within the law to find solutions to needs and I can help law enforcement get things done. Sometimes it is like pushing a rope. We have cleaned up the cities and neighborhoods and are getting crime down. We just cleaned out 18 drug dealers and modeled it after SCORE in Mobile. We are taking the lower end, “retailers” and trying to rehab them and get them on the right path. We have a team of people assigned to each one and are trying to change the culture and mindset and have been helping them find jobs. We started it a month ago and I hope it will work. I want Clarksdale to grow and be a clean, safe place to live. I want us to attract tourists but I don’t want it to become too much neon. We want people to come here as they are.”

 

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