Town of Mason ousts incumbent mayor, elects longtime businessman Eddie Naeman

Egyptian-born Naeman takes office in a time of tumult for the majority Black town, whose outgoing leaders have accused state officials of racism

By: - November 9, 2022 5:07 pm

Eddie Naeman, Mason’s newly elected Mayor, stands in the unfinished interior of what he hopes will become a grocery store. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The Town of Mason has ousted its incumbent mayor, electing a longtime local businessman now tasked with paring down the community’s outsized debt while navigating the potentially transformative opportunities ahead with the arrival of a new multi-billion dollar Ford plant next door.

With a turnout of just 199 voters, Eddie Naeman earned 91 votes (45.7%) to Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers’ 61 votes (35.6%) and incumbent Mayor Emmitt Gooden’s 44 votes (22.1%) to win the election for the part-time leadership position.

A fourth candidate, farmer Thomas Burrell, was bounced from the ballot by the Tipton County Election Commission, which found Burrell failed to meet a 6-month residency requirement in order to run for office. Burrell, who served as president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, contends he met the requirement when he moved to Mason earlier this year. He is pursuing a lawsuit to be reinstated on the ballot, requiring a special election for mayor. The lawsuit is expected to be heard in Tipton County Chancery Court on Thursday.

Thomas "T.B." Burrell is pursuing a lawsuit to get reinstated to the mayoral ballot in Mason, Tenn. If he is successful, the town will be required to hold a special election. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Thomas “T.B.” Burrell is pursuing a lawsuit to get reinstated to the mayoral ballot in Mason, Tenn. If he is successful, the town will be required to hold a special election. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The small west Tennessee town drew national attention earlier this year when the state’s Comptroller urged its residents to end self-governance, dissolve the town and revoke its charter, which would have subsumed the majority Black and Democrat community under the governances of majority white and Republican Tipton County.

Town leaders, including Rivers and Gooden, refused to cede the town’s 150-plus year old charter. They accused state leaders of singling them out with the unusual request because of race: the town’s elected leadership was almost entirely Black, but much of its debt had accrued under previous, majority white leadership who resigned, en masse, once allegations of fraud and mismanagement emerged seven years ago.

They also questioned the Comptroller’s timing: just ahead of the arrival of Ford Motor Company’s $5.6 billion electric truck plant five miles from Mason. Ford’s relocation to Tennessee is expected to bring a big economic boost to the surrounding communities, including Mason.

Mason has since remained under financial supervision of the Comptroller’s office, which is requiring it to comply with a debt repayment plan. .

Egyptian-born Naeman, who currently serves as the only non-Black member of  Mason’s Board of Alderman, has secretly shared information with the Comptroller’s office since 2019 and supported their intervention, he said during an interview with the Lookout in October.

Naeman owns a small used car lot within town limits and formerly ran a convenience store and gas station in Mason before they were destroyed in a semi-truck accident. He has sparred with his fellow elected officials to get licenses to restart those businesses, along with a new grocery store under construction. He previously told the Lookout that, among his priorities, was making Mason a more business-friendly community that would welcome new investments.

Naeman also revealed he would soon be self-publishing a book that promises to lay bare a wealth of insider knowledge about the town’s inner workings. Its working title: “Secrets of Mason.”

 

 

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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