Joseph Burgess Cornelius Sr. (born September 9, 1942), known as Joe Cornelius Sr., is a businessman and community organizer in Minden, Louisiana, who is a former interim mayor of his city, located in Webster Parish in the northwestern portion of the state. He is the second African American in nearly a quarter century to succeed directly from the Minden City Council to the mayor's position after an unexpected vacancy developed.
A native of Minden, Cornelius is one of five children of the late Sidney and Lucille Cornelius. He graduated from the former historically black Webster High School in Minden, since incorporated into the desegregated Minden High School. At one time, he resided in The Bronx borough of New York City, where some of his children still live, and in Shreveport, where he was formerly employed as a technician by Benevolent Funeral Home. He owns Mr. Joe's Ice Cream truck delivery in Minden.
Cornelius has long been involved in such community affairs as the annual Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. parades, and Black History Month each February. He is a former president of the Minden High School Booster Club and chairman of the group Concerned Citizens of Minden, which raised funds to carry more than five hundred youth to area lakes for recreation. As a city council member, Cornelius worked for additional street lights, including the lighting of school zones; water and sewer projects, and local streets. He is a former deputy for the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office and a former member of the parish Office of Community Services. Cornelius is a past recipient of the Distinguished Service Award presented by the Minden branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1998, he received a humanitarian award from the Association of Black Social Workers for the North Louisiana Region.
Cornelius is a steward and choir member at Mt. Zion CME Temple, an historically black Christian Methodist Episcopal congregation at 414 East Union Street in Minden. He is also a member of the Masonic lodge. Cornelius is married to the former Jacquelyn Williams. He has three living children, including Joe Cornelius Jr. A daughter died in 2013 during his mayoral campaign.
A Democrat, Cornelius through his role as Mayor Pro Tem became mayor in June 2013, upon the death of long-term mayor Bill Robertson. After Robertson's death, the council voted three-to-two, along racial lines, to elevate Cornelius as the interim mayor.
Before his death, Robertson, also a Democrat, had recommended that the city council choose as the next mayor Marvin Thomas "Tommy" Davis (like Cornelius born in September 1942), a Republican. First elected in 2006, Davis was the only Republican on the current city council, which also consists of three black Democrats and a white Independent, Benny Lawson Gray (born 1946), a Minden businessman. Davis, also a businessman, is a native of Stephens in Ouachita County in south Arkansas.
In the special election held on October 19, 2013, to fill the remainder of Robertson's term, Davis unseated Cornelius, 2,254 (61 percent) to 821 (22 percent). A third candidate, Walter "Woo" Morgan, Jr., an African-American barber and hair stylist who operates a shop at the intersection of East Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Minden, polled the remaining 646 votes (17 percent). Morgan had campaigned on a platform calling for the return of a movie theater to the city, the last of which closed during the 1970s, as sell as enhanced recreational opportunities though the city operates a recreational center off the Interstate 20 service road.
On July 15, 2013, the council named Wayne Edwards as the interim District A member to succeed Cornelius. An African American, Edwards had been the runner-up to Cornelius in the 2010 primary election for city council. Prior to Cornelius, the seat had been held by Rodney Dale Seamster, who died in office in April 2010. Edwards then won the council seat in the special election over the African-American Republican candidate, Darrell Morris, 86 to 14 percent.
Earlier from 1991 to 1995, Cornelius represented District B on the Minden City Council. He was initially elected, 59-41, percent in a runoff election held on November 6, 1990, over fellow Democrat Grace Kirk Richardson, who had held the seat on an interim basis after the death of her father, Joe Willie Kirk, the first African-American to have served on the city council.
In 1992, Cornelius claimed that the city had long neglected District B in regard to drainage, street lights and repairs, police patrols, and the large number of dilapidated houses. In calling for mass repairs to houses in the district, Cornelus clashed with both Mayor Robertson and District E council member Tyrus Lamar "Ty" Pendergrass (born 1955), a Republican and later Independent. Robertson accused Cornelius of "playing politics" on the housing issue. In 1994, Cornelius led the move on the city council to rename Maiden Lane as Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in honor of the civil rights figure.
Cornelius was unseated in his District C council position after a single term in 1995 by another African American, Fayrine Antoinette Kennon, now Fayrine Kennon-Gilbert (born c. 1967), widow of Verdis Gilbert (died 2013) and proprietor of her family's Kennon and Son Mortuary in Minden. Cornelius drew 195 votes; Kennon, 210. In 1998, Cornelius lost, 70 to 30 percent, in a bid to unseat councilwoman Kennon-Gilbert in District B.
In 2004, using the ballot nickname "Mister Joe", Cornelius failed again, 74 to 26 percent in yet another bid to unseat Kennon-Gilbert. In 2013, still a member of the council—there are no term limits for Minden city offices—Kennon-Gilbert joined with her former election rival Cornelius and a third black council member, Magaline Murray Quarles (born 1937), to make Cornelius the interim mayor. Quarles was defeated for reelection to the council in 2014.
In 2012, Cornelius was charged with driving while intoxicated, aggravated assault, and simple battery. When he pleaded guilty to DWI, the other charges were dropped. Cornelius said that he is looking to "the future of Minden. My doors are open to everyone. I hope to [make] some changes in Minden." Cornelius was also charged in 2007 with DWI but considers those problems "in the past. ... Let's move this city ahead. I'm capable. I have a good staff here."
The last interim mayor, Robert T. Tobin, a former educator, succeeded to the post in 1989 upon the recall of the Democrat Noel Byars. Tobin was then defeated in a special election later in the year by the Republican Paul A. Brown.
Cornelius ran unsuccessfully for mayor again in the primary election held on November 4, 2014. He polled 1,089 votes (23.7 percent). His two opponents, incumbent Republican Tommy Davis and Charles Deck "Chad" Odom (born February 1975), a No-Party candidate, competed or a full four-year term as mayor in a runoff election held on December 6. Davis won a narrow victory over Odom.