Frank Melton, the mayor of Mississippi's largest city, died early Thursday, two days after losing a primary re-election bid and days before he was set to stand trial on federal civil rights charges. He was 60.
Melton died at a Jackson hospital with his wife by his side, city spokeswoman Goldia Revies told The Associated Press.
Melton had a history of serious heart problems, but officials have declined to say if that's what sent him to the hospital Tuesday, shortly after polls closed. Melton's attorney John Reeves said it was up to the family to disclose the cause of death.
"I am going to respect the mayor's privacy even in death," Reeves said.
At an emergency meeting Wednesday, the City Council tapped its president, Leslie Burl McLemore, to be acting mayor.
Unofficial results show Melton came in third of nine candidates. The top two finishers — Harvey Johnson, the former mayor Melton unseated in 2005, and city Councilman Marshand Crisler — advanced to a May 19 runoff.
Trial had been set to start Monday for Melton and a former bodyguard, who each faced two federal civil rights charges related to a sledgehammer attack on a duplex on Aug. 26, 2006, that Melton considered a crackhouse.
It would have been their second trial. A judge declared a mistrial in the first case in February after a jury failed to reach a verdict.
Melton had a serious heart condition that sent him to the hospital several times in recent years, including for bypass surgery.
Melton's first federal trial was postponed while he was treated for his heart condition and he looked gaunt and tired through much of that trial. His doctor testified at the time that he was in "end stage cardiomyopathy." She said she recommended a heart transplant, but Melton refused to get on a donor list.
He and the bodyguard, Jackson police officer Michael Recio, were both acquitted in April 2007 on state charges related to the raid.
'The Bottom Line'
Melton came to Mississippi from Tyler, Texas, in the 1980s to run NBC affiliate WLBT-TV. He soon made a name for himself with an opinion piece called "The Bottom Line" in which he called out criminals and verbally attacked city officials he considered ineffective.
"And that, my friends, is the bottom line," became his catchphrase.
His wife, a pediatrician, and his two children stayed behind in Texas, prompting vicious rumors about his personal life. Melton brushed aside criticism, and did things his own, sometimes unusual way.
He became a fixture in poor neighborhoods, where he would talk to youngsters about personal accountability and hard work. He tried to broker a cease fire among gangs and volunteered as a swim instructor at an area YMCA.
He was elected by a landslide in 2005 after campaigning on a tough-on-crime platform. Since then, however, he was hounded by legal problems related to his unorthodox tactics.
Prosecutors say he was drunk on scotch and power when he ordered a group of young men — some with criminal records — to destroy the duplex in a poor neighborhood. Melton said he was only trying rid the city of a drug den.