Redemption Found In Small Town Politics
Deese (far left) and Jefferson (far right) stood on opposite edges of the fire department parking lot while last-minute campaigning. Most people know Marshville as the small town they pass through on the way to the beach. It's sleepy. Quiet. Lots of empty buildings downtown. But the mayor's race featured an incumbent with a redemption story and a challenger taking a long shot. WFAE's Tanner Latham caught up with the candidates and filed this story yesterday before the votes were counted. As an update, Mayor Deese was re-elected last night to his fourth term. He received 241 votes to Matthew Jefferson's 119. Mayor Frank Deese was re-elected yesterday with 66 percent of the vote. When Frank Deese talks about his path to success, he speaks in acronyms. He boils it all down to focus, attitude, choices, and emotions. "Face. Face. Put on your A+ Face," says Deese. He's the kind of guy you expect to find pacing onstage at a sales conference. The kind of guy comfortable clicking through his motivational powerpoint presentation. Not the kind of guy you expect to find in the parking lot of the Beaver Lane Fire Department in Marshville, North Carolina. But he should be here. He's a three-term mayor of the town, today he's seeking his fourth, and this is the town's polling precinct. Deese looks sharp. His suit is lined with purple pin stripes. And he's popular. He even gets some hugs. He also carries the cadence of a minister. "Prison is a state of mind. It's not a place. That's the first thing you've got to realize," says Deese. "There are people walking every day in prisons. Prisons of alcoholism. Prisons of drug abuse. Prison of depression. Prisons of insecurities. All these are prisons. I was in a brick and mortar prison." Confused? Well here's the thing with Frank Deese. He spent 10 years in prison for armed robbery. In 1982, he walked into an escort service in Monroe and held two women at gun point. He walked out with about $130. He was sentenced to 29 years and made parole after 10. He calls those his "years of higher learning." And now he's written a book entitled From Inmate to Mayor that he will self-publish. "I want the book to launch a speaking career. I want to go all over this nation speaking to them and giving them a message," he says. "Number one: Giving them a glimmer of hope. Telling them that they can succeed. Not just telling them that they can. Telling them how they can." Matthew Jefferson didn't win the election, but he'll return to the town council to continue working for the city. But on election day, the mayor's race is the priority, and Deese's opponent is strong. His name is Matthew Jefferson, and he's a current councilman with a youthful face. He's in the parking lot as well. Standing at the opposite edge from the mayor. There's no tension here, though. The men like each other. Respect each other. Jefferson probably would not have run if the mayor had stuck to his guns when he initially decided not to run. But here they both are, getting in their last campaigning. By the way, Jefferson's also a snappy dresser-decked out in a forest green Italian suit with a pocket square. His wife, however, hates his tie. "My wife says this is the ugliest tie I own, so that's why I wore it today," says Jefferson. "I personally love it. Even though it looks like scrambled eggs. But she'll be down here later. Maybe she'll bring me another tie. Bring me my power tie." Jefferson runs a carpet cleaning business and a landscaping business. He and his family live in an apartment above a beauty shop downtown. That's where he wants the city to invest. That's his message for a voter named Gladys Kelly when she asks, "Why do you want to be mayor?" "I want to help Marshville become the gem that it is," Jefferson answers. "So, the downtown revitalization is paramount to our survival. And I want to bring that to Marshville." Every vote will count. Of the 1,400 registered voters, the precinct judge estimates only 200 will show. So, Jefferson has an uphill battle. He's facing the three-term incumbent. And his platform of economic development is also similar to the mayor's. Not to mention the fact that the mayor has written a book on overcoming adversity. Of the 1,400 registered voters in Marshville, only about 360 submitted their ballots.