GREENVILLE – In January, Heather Hudson became the only woman mayor – and perhaps also the first woman mayor ever – of one of the seven largest cities in Mississippi. In addition to being a woman, being a minority and only 27 years old made her election even more remarkable.
“Those three things together caused problems for a number of people,” Hudson said. “A lot of times it wasn`t said out loud, but there were ways to let me know that people had problems with the three things. What I found to be important was to show not only do I have the ability to do the job well, but I also have a passion for the job.”
Hudson, who turned 28 after being elected, is a native of Greenville, a small business owner, and has a law degree from Tulane University. Her three primary campaign planks were pledges to work on economic development, reduction of crime and improvement of the overall quality of life in Greenville.
“I am a small business owner,” Hudson said. “My husband and I own Lenny`s Sub Shop in Greenville, and are also opening one in Cleveland. I understand the heartache and pain that can come along with starting a small business. I want us to learn from each other and help create long-lasting, viable businesses in the community.”
Hudson said it is unfortunate that in 2004 it is still questioned if a woman can do a job like being mayor of one of the state`s largest cities.
“It is sad in 2004 we still have to combat the issues of people feeling because we are women, we can`t accomplish a particular goal or are not capable of doing a particular job,” Hudson. “As women, we have to be extremely assertive and aggressive in saying we can do this and we can do it well. We can bring something to the table that was not there before. We have the ability to get things done, and still have compassion. We have the skills and courage to get out there and do the work without fear of backlash. We cannot give up. We have to continue to help and encourage each other.”
Early in her campaign Hudson went to many women involved in politics and asked for their advice. Those women told her the issues she would have to address, the hills she would have to climb. She found those conversations to be very helpful.
“It is important to realize that women have a voice,” Hudson said. “It may be a very soft and simple voice. But at the right setting and time, it can be powerful. Even a group of soft voices can make a loud noise. That`s what will move Mississippi forward when those forces come together.”
Hudson apparently wasn`t lacking in confidence. She said it never occurred to her that there were any insurmountable barriers to being elected mayor.
“It never dawned on me that I could not be elected,” she said. “There was no reason why I could not be elected. I had the knowledge, the ability to do it, and desire to do it. This is my hometown, where I grew up. These are my friends, church members and family. These are the people I represent. I was not about to let anyone tell me that because of my gender, race or youth that I could not do it.”
Hudson believes women can bring different perspectives and ideas to politics. That doesn`t mean women want to take over and “wreck the shop.”
“We are interested in the well-being of all people regardless of their sex, age, color or religion,” she said. “We are proud to be able to be aggressive about getting things done.”
Her favorite part of campaigning was talking to people and spending time in the community getting a sense of what people need and want. Now that she is mayor, she is continuing the forays out from behind the desk to go through neighborhoods and talk to people. She says listening in a council meeting is far different from sitting in beauty shops and barbershops, going out to local restaurants, and visiting schools.
“That is what has been missing: having conversations and letting people know we are working for them,” Hudson said. “We are public servants. And they need to know that we are actively working for them to improve their quality of life. That is what they put us here for. To me, that is the most fun, the joyous part of the job. If I ever have a bad day, I just get up and go out into the community. You can always stop by a kindergarten class, and you will end up smiling when you leave there.”
Hudson considers economic development her number one challenge. In the past few years, the community has lost about 875 jobs due to plant closings and layoffs.
“That is very depressing for this area,” Hudson said. “When you don`t have the means to work for an income, that brings in other elements and doesn`t lend to the overall vitality and growth of the community. We were truly blessed with the recent announcement of Textron Fastening Systems that is creating 550 jobs here, and we are even more excited because we are beginning to see a snowball effect of other business and industries that are looking closely at Greenville now.
“We can not only attract a business, but sustain a business. We have people who are teachable, trainable and welcome industry to the community. We hear wonderful things about how trainable our people are. Other industries are starting to hear that. There is a new Mississippi Delta that is dawning. It is all about hospitality, kindness, hard work and growth. We are starting on a fast-moving train. Once it gets going, we are going to be dead set on reaching our goals.”
Hudson said community development is vital to invigorating the local community. Her focus is not just on creating a favorable climate for big business, but also for small minority- and women-owned businesses.
“If you have dreams to start your own business, you should do that,” Hudson said. “We will provide information and a vehicle to make that possible. We can put people in touch with the right organizations to teach them the proper way to fund a business, the benefits available to women and minorities in businesses, and how to make their businesses become long-lasting generational businesses, not just something there for only a year. We want to promote wealth building for small businesses. Small businesses are a vital part of the community, and we want to make sure we give them everything they need to be successful in the community.”
Hudson is a graduate of T.L. Weston High School in Greenville and received a B.A. in sociology from Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. She received a law degree from Tulane University and was a student of agricultural growth and Hispanic culture at the Universidad Caltolica, Madre y Maestra, Santiago Dominican Republic. She served as an aid to Sen. Donzella James, Georgia State Legislature. An attorney with McTeer & Associates Law Firm, Hudson is teen ministry leader at Agape Christian Center, executive director of the McTeer Foundation and co-founder of Project Give Back non-profit organization.
For more information on Greenville, see the Web site www.greenville.ms.us.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.