Jackson, MS Mayor Frank Melton, former CEO/GM of WLBT-TV, collapsed after losing the Democratic primary this week and died early Thursday at a hospital. Melton had suffered from heart disease.
According to an obituary broadcast by WLBT, Melton began his broadcasting career as a sportscaster in Texas, but quickly rose to the management ranks. He led an investment group which bought WLBT in 1984 from a consortium of applicants who had been awarded the license four years earlier after the FCC revoked the license of the original owner for repeated violations of the Fairness Doctrine (refusing to cover civil rights advocates to the point of deleting NBC coverage of the issue).
Melton became a multi-millionaire after selling WLBT to Liberty Corporation’s Cosmos group in 2002, which in turn was sold to current owner Raycom. Having made himself a local public figure with his first-person editorials on TV, Melton then turned his attention to politics. He was first appointed head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and four years ago was elected Mayor of Jackson. He was the second African-American to hold the post, having defeated the first, Harvey Johnson Jr.
The Mayor was known for publicity gimmicks, such as having his police entourage pull over a school bus so he could hug the children. But Melton’s flair for drama was his undoing. He led a warrantless raid on a purported crack house in 2006 in which young men in his entourage tore the house apart with sledgehammers. Melton was acquitted of state felony charges, but a federal re-trial was set for this month after the first jury early this year was unable to reach a verdict on civil rights charges resulting from the house destruction.
Melton also battled with the City Council and was frequently accused of making decisions without consulting the city’s other elected officials. Five rivals ran against Melton in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for the mayoral nomination and Melton finished third. Former Mayor Johnson won.
Melton’s heart disease was diagnosed several years ago. WLBT reported that he had rejected his doctor’s recommendation that he have a heart transplant – and also continued to drink and smoke. Melton collapsed shortly after the polls closed on Tuesday and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He died shortly after midnight on Thursday morning.
In addition to his TV and political careers, Frank Melton was a director of BMI.