Friday, December 2, 2022

Reb/NFL Vet Wade Makes Mayoral Bid

Josh Merwin/Getty Images
Josh Merwin/Getty Images

Challenger’s platform includes planning for growth, improving town-and-gown relations

Todd Wade, former Ole Miss, SEC, and NFL star, hopes to become Mayor of Oxford 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 incumbent Pat Patterson, who beat Democratic challenger Jason Plunk in the primary on May 7.

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 who 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 said he’s a problem solver. “I have a great understanding of the free market, monetary policy, and American history,” he said. “All are passions of mine that I’ve put a lot of time into researching and studying over the years, so I find it’s my duty to make sure we adhere to the principles that keep government roles in check.”

In addition to his bid to lead Oxford, Wade has a hand in local real estate. The former Rebel star operates McLaurin Wade Properties, a real estate holdings company he founded which consists of apartments and single family homes throughout the southeast.  Wade is part owner of Ceannate Corp., which represents an outperformer for business process outsourcing services for private, government, and affiliated industries, and is part owner of Area 55 Communications, a locally based sports radio network.

Wade also currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club and is active in numerous charities serving the state and community such as Habitat for Humanity, Make-A-Wish, and the American Cancer Society. As a pilot, he once helped the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society by flying more than 30 abandoned dogs and cats to new homes in Denver, Colorado. “It was a memorable flight; Kansas is a big state,” Wade deadpanned.

This isn’t the first time Wade offered himself for public office. In 2011, he tossed his hat in the ring to represent Oxford and the surrounding area in the Mississippi Senate. Wade was born in and lived in Mississippi most of his life, but his career in the NFL required him to move out of state. Although Wade was a registered voter and had voted upon returning home to Mississippi after his NFL career, Mississippi law requires four years of continuous residency to be a candidate for the Senate. At the time, Wade had only been a registered resident for half of that time, having been registered in Florida prior to moving back to Mississippi. Wade said he considers this all a blessing, given that he can work to make an immediate impact in his city rather than get bogged down in partisan politics in Jackson.

“Government closest to the people governs best,” he said. “City government provides crucial everyday services such as public safety, education, and transportation. I want to set an example in Oxford for other cities to emulate. Not only should our attitude change immediately, we should evaluate how we run things altogether. Oxford deserves a positive vision for the future.”

When asked about why he feels best suited for the role, the candidate responded, “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. We must recognize our town is subsidized to a large extent by having a large university that creates jobs and a hospital that wants to grow in Oxford. It’s easy to fall into the trap of complacency by reading our press clippings, whether it’s about the university or the town. We must have a vision for our future with goals that we must work towards”

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.”

Photo by Seph Anderson /
Photo by Seph Anderson /

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. Currently, I feel one of the greatest conflicts in City Hall is the inability to listen.”

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.

“What do you want Oxford to look like in 10 years? Our growth rate is at 4.5 percent with no signs of slowing. Mississippi is a right-to-work state, so as businesses continue to drag in the north, it’s expected that jobs will relocate in the south.   This growth is also due to an increase in retirees and students coming to Oxford. At this rate of 4.5 percent, there is expected to be over 20,000 additional people moving into our county by 2020. We have erroneously been asleep at the wheel and have largely avoided the Vision 2020 plan, the study that Oxford paid thousands for, so that we could have a functional plan to guide our preparation for the growth.

“Oxford’s leadership has kicked the can and we are on a dangerous path, which will take a tough visionary to correct.  Failing to address this serious issue in the past has caused great problems in Oxford including increased traffic, parking issues, poor drainage, and old infrastructure. This continues to wilt Oxford’s charm. I’m excited to work with the Board of Aldermen to quickly implement plans that have been discussed for the past 13 years. Given the opportunity, I will lead in a positive, energetic and inclusive manner just as I always have done in every endeavor. Oxford cannot afford to remain reactionary.”

“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,” Wade said. “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.”

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.”

— Seph AndersonSportswriter to The South, covers timely Ole Miss, SEC, & national news from the sports world.   @SephAnderson