Todd Wade, former Ole Miss, SEC and NFL star, hopes to become Mayor of Oxford, MS on June 4.
While he anchored the Rebels' offensive line in the late 1990s, the 1999 All-SEC, All-American selection now looks to return to a leadership role in the charming college town of Oxford. However, this time around it's all political.
The Independent candidate won't face SEC defensive linemen in this contest, instead he'll be facing either incumbent Mayor Pat Patterson (Democrat) or local business owner Jason Plunk.
Errol Castens of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal explained:
A radio station owner and the former owner of three different bars will challenge incumbent Pat Patterson for mayor of Oxford.Jason T. Plunk filed qualifying papers on Friday to run in the May 7 Democratic primary. It will be Plunk’s first campaign for office. The winner will face Todd Wade, who is running as an independent, on June 4.
Recently, I had an opportunity to visit with Wade and talk life, football and a little politics, of course.
Wade's affinity for Ole Miss and Oxford existed long before he even signed with the Rebels out of Jackson Prep School (Jackson, MS). Despite having parents and grandparents that attended school in Oxford, the offensive lineman tried to keep an open mind throughout the recruiting process.
Ultimately, it was Wade's grandfather that convinced him to ink with the Rebs. He told me, "My grandfather called me in early January (ahead of signing day in early February) to tell me to "quit messing around and commit now!" I did."
However, Ole Miss has always held a special place in Wade's heart.
"Since I was a child, I always loved visiting Oxford," he explained. "There were so many unique qualities to it, particularly getting to attend games to see the Rebels play. When I came into town for my recruiting visit I was completely sold. Once I left Oxford as a professional I would always try to get back here any chance I could get and many of the times I would bring a teammate with me just so I could show him what I was always talking about."
Despite joining a Rebel team only able to offer 13 scholarships his freshman season, Wade felt quite confident about what he and his recruiting class could accomplish together in Oxford. It turns out the big man was right, as his senior class won three straight bowl games at Ole Miss (1997 Motor City Bowl and 1998 and 1999 Independence Bowls).
After a successful nine-year NFL career that saw stints with the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars, Wade is back in Oxford looking to help his cherished college town become an even better place to live in 2013 and beyond.
The mayoral candidate talked about his long-standing passion for politics, "I have a great understanding of monetary policy, macroeconomics and American history. All are passions of mine that I've put a lot of time into researching and studying over the years."
In addition to his bid to lead Oxford, Wade has a hand in local real estate. The former Rebel star operates McLarin Wade Properties, a real estate holdings company he founded which consists of apartments and single family homes.
When asked about why he feels best-suited for the role, the Oxford Mayoral candidate responded, "I feel I'm the best candidate, because I have a clear understanding of the role of mayor. I understand the role of government is a limited one and you should always caution on the side of that. It is one that provides leadership, sets goals and displays an enthusiastic vision for opportunity not just now, but in the future. You must be able to communicate effectively and provide personal assistance to all."
While Wade certainly has his share of supporters in Rebel country, arguably his biggest challenge in landing the mayor's seat will be convincing old blood that change can actually be positive for fellow Oxonians.
"The most challenging aspect at this point is getting the citizens who have been in Oxford the longest to realize we all want the same thing," he said. We all love the small town charm of Oxford, but must realize people are moving here at a staggering rate. If we continue to fail by refusing to develop a comprehensive plan, we will not get the small town Oxford we love and will get a sprawling apartment town with many stoplights.
If elected, Wade explained what would be his first order of business in Oxford.
"My first objective would be to set the bar for how we work in City Hall and on the streets. People will quickly see that I expect everyone to work selflessly for the benefit of Oxford as a community. Everyone will have their role and their role only. I will be very open and will engage each council and commission and establish sensible priorities and guidelines so there is little confusion."
The "town and gown" relationship is an integral part of close-knit college towns, and it's one aspect of Wade's platform he's not shying away from these days. He suggested, "Oxford and Ole Miss are each other's greatest asset. We both realize this, but due to a lack of communication on a number of issues (whether it be lack of coordinated plans or events), we hurt each other."
In closing, I asked Wade what his final pitch would be given two minutes with a prospective voter. In response, he provided a thorough game plan:
"What do you want Oxford to look like in 10 years? There are 65,000 people in Lafayette County. The Census Bureau indicates that there will be 100,000 people in the county by 2020. That is just over six and a half years.
"Due to the increase in students, retirees and new businesses, this trend is not going to stop. By failing to address this serious issue in the past, it has caused great problems in Oxford by increased traffic, parking issues, poor drainage, old infrastructure and a failure to plan for new areas of growth. This continues to wilt Oxford's charm. I want to reverse this trend with an economic plan for our future.
"We must bridge the gap between the university, county and town so that we can mutually benefit from this new smart growth. Our seasonal tourism has given us an unbalanced economy. Far too often businesses have to layoff employees each year to allow the business to operate at profit.
Simply by increasing our occupancies to 55-percent by bringing in just 200-to-300 more visitors during slower months will allow our businesses to run much more effectively throughout the year by bringing in nearly 10 million additional dollars into our local economy. To achieve this the Oxford Visitor's Bureau must not be micro-managed and allowed to do one thing—Marketing to new visitors."
On May 7, the former Miami Dolphin draft pick hopes primary voters will help propel him to a run against incumbent Pat Patterson in the June 4 general election. Wade's been a proven leader on the field throughout his career, now he looks to translate his success to the political arena.
Wade remains confident in his pursuit to serve Oxford, stating "By having a competitive nature and being successful in one of the most competitive and demanding jobs in the world, I have always felt like I could achieve what I wanted as long as I studied the role, stayed disciplined in principle and put the task at the highest priority."