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Durr says he’s staying in race

Saying he will stay in the mayor’s race “as long as God allows,”the Rev. Jerry Durr has canceled a self-imposed Thursday deadlinefor withdrawing if he does not receive a gubernatorial pardon for a1973 forgery conviction.

“I believe God will work this thing out,” Durr said Tuesday, oneweek before the city’s May 1 party primaries.

Durr said he had received calls from citizens expressing theirprayers and support, and he plans to keep going forward.

“I’m going to stay in there as long as God allows,” Durrsaid.

Durr’s decision to stay in the mayor’s race further clouds anuncertain political picture as citizens prepare to make theirchoices in this year’s elections.

There have been conflicting opinions from state electionofficials regarding a pardon and its effect on Durr’s eligibility.The opinions involve timing of Durr’s meeting candidatequalifications — either at the time he signed up to run or byelection day — and that relationship to getting a pardon.

One certainty is that if Durr does not get a pardon by May 1, heis ineligible to run for office due to his forgery conviction 28years ago in Pike County.

Questions about Durr getting a pardon are moot, said JamesTillman, chairman of the city’s Democratic Executive Committee.

“Until a pardon is received, he’s not an eligible candidate,”Tillman said.

Durr said he has been talking with the governor’s attorney aboutsecuring a pardon.

“He’s supposed to get back with me today,” Durr said.

Durr did not comment on what he would do if he does not receivea pardon.

Lisa Mader, press secretary for Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, said Sect.124 of the state constitution says a person’s petition for pardonmust be published for 30 days in the newspaper where the crime wascommitted. The petition must state reasons why the person believesa pardon should granted.

“He would have to publish for 30 days his petition for pardonbefore it could be considered,” Mader said, adding that thepetition could then go to the governor.

The Enterprise Journal, in McComb, had no record of apetition for pardon being published on behalf of Durr.

If Durr does not receive a pardon, Tillman said notices would beposted at city voting locations declaring that Durr is not aneligible candidate. For absentee voting reasons, ballots havealready been printed and cannot be changed, the chairman said,adding that any absentee vote for Durr would not count.

If a pardon is received, then questions about when Durr metcandidate qualifications re-enter the picture.

Secretary of State election officials have said qualificationsmust be met when a candidate signs up to run, or he must have”absolute proof” they will be met by election day. At least oneAttorney General’s opinion indicated a pardon by election day wouldallow Durr to run.

Tillman said the executive committee would have to meet to getclarification on Durr’s status if he receives a pardon. At a Mondaymeeting, Tillman said the committee’s position on Durr’s candidacywas to “wait and see.”

“We’ve got to follow the law, whatever the law says,” Tillmansaid.

Evidence of Durr’s conviction did not surface until last week. Acopy of a court record was placed under City Attorney Joe Fernald’sdoor, Fernald and others said.

In his qualifying papers, Durr checked the box by the statement,”I have never been convicted of a crime punishable by confinementin the penitentiary.” Court records show that Durr pleaded guiltyto uttering forgery and was sentenced to five years, which wassuspended for five years probation.

Citing legal advice and prior jury duty, Durr said getting hisvoting rights back, as he did in 1992, allowed him to respond tothe crime statement the way he did.

“That did away with that as if that had never happened,” Durrsaid.

In certifying candidates, Tillman said the executive committeereviewed Durr’s qualifying papers and asked the circuit clerk forbackground checks on candidates. Tillman said the checks revealednothing.

After finding out about the conviction, Tillman said he spokewith Durr about the situation.

“He’d have been in a lot better shape if he’d discussed it,”Tillman said about Durr’s felony conviction in relation to hisqualifying statement.