TUPELO • Mayor Jason Shelton has fallen under fire for his failure to attend a Monday campaign rally held in the city by President Donald Trump.
When he flew into the Tupelo Regional Airport late Monday afternoon, Trump became the first sitting president to visit the city of Tupelo since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.
The city’s top elected official, a Democrat now in his second term, was not present at the Trump event. In recent days, he has received criticism over his absence, including on his personal Facebook page and on city government social media accounts.
“A truly historical event in Tupelo,” Lynne London Elliott wrote on Facebook. “And our mayor was missing in action. It’s truly embarrassing.”
Shelton said he would have attended the campaign rally had he been asked to offer Trump a formal greeting.
Such an invitation was not offered, according to Shelton.
“I would have been absolutely glad to welcome the president to the city of Tupelo in an official capacity,” Shelton said. “That was not a possibility I was given.”
VIP seating was available at the event, and many local elected officials were there, including three Republican City Council members from Tupelo: Lynn Bryan, Mike Bryan and Buddy Palmer.
A spokesperson for the Hyde-Smith campaign said the campaign and the offices of Sen. Roger Wicker and Gov. Phil Bryant, as well as other state dignitaries, submitted names for the VIP list ahead of the campaign stop.
According to Shelton, he was not offered a VIP seat and did not seek one out. He emphasized that Monday’s event was a campaign rally for Hyde-Smith’s election effort. “It was purely a political event,” the mayor said.
Shelton did watch the president’s plane land from a nearby site and then watched video of the president’s speech.
Some local Republican elected leaders were also absent from the rally.
Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington, who counts himself a friend to Hyde-Smith, planned to attend but was ultimately prevented by work demands.
Whittington has clashed with Shelton but declined to overtly attack Shelton over his absence at Monday’s event.
“I think as the mayor of Tupelo he probably should have been there, whether you were invited or not invited,” Whittington said. “But he made the call, I’m not going to criticize him. It’s his decision.”
Shelton entered the special election for the U.S. Senate election earlier this year, making him for a time one of Hyde-Smith’s opponents.
He withdrew from the race a short time later, but consistently refused to endorse any candidate, including the marquee Democrat in the race, Mike Espy.
The mayor did, however, denounce comments Hyde-Smith made about a “public hanging.” Those remarks were made in Tupelo and Shelton said he wanted to protect the city’s image.
Shelton did attend Trump’s 2016 presidential inauguration as the guest of state Rep. Shane Aguirre, who is a Republican and a personal friend.
The mayor also attended the White House on Nov. 16 and was on hand when Trump presented Elvis Presley with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Shelton provided the Daily Journal with a handwritten letter he had delivered to the president, thanking him for the opportunity to be present during the medal ceremony.