Biography of A.J. Holloway
A.J. Holloway had overseen hundreds of millions of dollars in quality-of-life improvements in his first three terms as mayor of Biloxi:
Four new public schools were built, including a state-of-the-art high school, in an $80 million investment in public education; tens of millions were invested in new municipal facilities such as police and fire stations, libraries, community centers, parks, playgrounds and ballfields; fees were abolished for youth leagues; new roads were built and decades-old ones were rebuilt, a $35 million affordable housing initiative was undertaken in east Biloxi; and residents throughout the city saw their property tax rate drop by 50 percent.
Holloway was using revenue from a casino-resort industry that re-energized the local economy, creating 15,000 jobs, generating $6 billion in development, boosting the number of annual visitors to the community from a million a year to between 8 and 10 million a year, and accounting for billions in new revenue.
As Biloxi entered the 21st Century, the city was enjoying the most prosperous time in its 300-year history – that is, until Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster to ever strike the United States, decimated Biloxi and surrounding communities.
Katrina claimed 6,000 of 25,000 homes and businesses in Biloxi, and more than 15,000 were left without jobs in the gaming industry alone.
Fortunately for Biloxians, Holloway’s staunchly conservative nature and small-business upbringing were steadfast before and since the storm. The mayor’s memory of the city’s economic challenges before casino gaming arrived prompted him two months before the storm to invest $92,000 in a business-interruption insurance policy that captured $10 million in gaming revenue that would have been lost to the storm.
He marshaled city departments, used state and federal aid and went about the business of clearing the city of debris in the days after the storm and set about a long-term recovery program.
Six months after the storm, Holloway announced the “Reviving the Renaissance” initiative, prompting nearly 200 residents to step forward to help craft a blueprint to guide the city’s rebuilding efforts in a way that recaptures the successes of the past.
The challenges of a post-Katrina Biloxi may define Holloway’s public service career, which began with the Biloxi Public Schools, where he served as business manager for six years. He also served at the Mississippi Tax Commission for 12 years and attained the post of senior revenue agent. He was later elected to the Biloxi City Council serving one term before being elected mayor of Biloxi in 1993.
Holloway graduated from Biloxi High School and the University of Mississippi (bachelor’s degree in education). While pursuing his education, he excelled in athletics, having played in two Sugar Bowls and a Cotton Bowl while at Ole Miss and on the 1960 Rebels national championship football team (future U.S. Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran of Mississippi were cheerleaders for the team). Holloway brought that winning spirit to City Hall as councilman and later as mayor, promising fiscally conservative leadership and responsible government.
Today, the mayor envisions as many 20 casino resorts in Biloxi in 10 years, and as many as 30,000 hotel rooms and 30,000 employees in the casino resort industry. The “Reviving the Renaissance” initiative also promises improvements in areas such as affordable housing, historic preservation, public safety and public education.
Holloway, along the way, has stayed on message. In fact, a State of the City address he delivered to Biloxians in 2007 included a line from a State of the City message he had delivered in 2004, more than a year before Katrina.
Said Holloway in 2004 and again in 2007: “Future generations are going to look back on this chapter in our history as a time when we made the right decisions … when we cherished and protected our culture… and we did things to improve and enhance our quality of life. They’re going to see this as an historic time.”
Added the mayor: “We were on the right track before this storm, and we’re going to stay on the right track. The people of Biloxi have a unique opportunity. We are in the midst of something most people can only dream of. We were making history before this storm, and we stand poised to make history again. Imagine that…. Some people are lucky to be a part of history once in their lifetime. We have the chance to be part of history TWICE in our lifetime.”