State officials’ views differ on candidacy

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2001

While the mayoral candidacy of the Rev. Jerry Durr still hingeson a pardon from the governor, two state agencies have offeredconflicting opinions regarding timing of the possible pardon andits effect on his eligibility.

Durr, who is currently ineligible because of a 1973 forgeryconviction in Pike County, met Monday with representatives of theAttorney General’s Office. He obtained 1985, 1987 and 1995 opinionsindicating that if he gets a pardon by the time of the election, hewould be cleared to run.

“It’s not over,” Durr said. “God is working things out.”

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However, Leslie Scott, assistant secretary of state forelections, cited “technical revisions” passed by the 2000 statelegislature that say qualifications to run for office must be metat the time the candidate is certified by his party’s executivecommittee.

“They have to determine the candidate meets the qualificationswithout contingencies,” Scott said, adding that an unpardonedconviction would be a contingency.

Quoting Section 23-15-309, Scott said a candidate must present”absolute proof” that qualifications will be met by election day. Acandidate only seeking a pardon would not meet that requirement,she said.

Scott said the statute was clear, although she was aware of theAG’s opinion.

“If that comes through, we’ll look at it again,” Scott said.

James Tillman, chairman of the Brookhaven Democratic ExecutiveCommittee, said the Secretary of State’s handbook on elections isclear that qualifications must exist at the time of certification.However, he said the committee will follow the law if an AG’sopinion determines Durr is eligible if he receives a pardon.

“You’ve got two agencies of government with different opinions,”Tillman said.

Regardless, Tillman sees the Tuesday, May 1, first primary asthe deadline for getting a pardon.

“If he doesn’t get it by May 1, he’s ineligible,” Tillman said.”There’s no question about that.”

Durr had no comment today on his chances of getting a pardon,although he indicated he was optimistic.

“Things are really looking well,” Durr said.

Durr earlier said he would withdraw from the mayor’s race byThursday if he does not get a pardon.

Pike County court records show Durr and another defendantpleaded guilty to uttering forgery charges related to two checks,totaling $140, written in November 1972. Durr, who was 19 at thetime, received a five-year sentence that was suspended for fiveyears probation.

Durr had his right to vote restored through a petition in thelegislature in 1992.

Tillman said the executive committee was unaware of Durr’sconviction at the time of candidate certification.

“We ran all the candidates through the circuit clerk’s officeand didn’t get anything,” Tillman said.

Evidence of Durr’s conviction surfaced last week after CityAttorney Joe Fernald said someone slipped court records under thedoor of his office.

Durr said God inspired him to run for mayor, and he is runningon a platform to unite the community and bring racial harmony.

“I’ve been working diligently to do those things since I’ve beenhere,” said Durr, founder of Brookhaven Outreach Ministries.

Durr said he made a mistake 28 years ago, and he was thankfulthat God had come into his life. He suggested opposition to hisChristian witness as a possible reason behind his criminal recordsurfacing now.

“We can expect that opposition. We can expect that fight,” Durrsaid. “We’ve got to stand on Godly principles.”