The mayor who led Biloxi through the long casino boom of the 1990s and its recovery from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina is resigning.
A.J. Holloway, who had already temporarily left his post on Jan. 29 to enter an alcohol rehabilitation facility, will resign Tuesday.
Kenny Holloway, the 75-year-old mayor’s brother, delivered a resignation letter Thursday to Biloxi Administration Director David Nichols.
“Due to an accumulation of health issues, I must ask the people of the city of Biloxi to permit me to be with my family for the remainder of this municipal term,” Holloway wrote in a one-paragraph letter. “I know you will choose wisely when selecting my successor.”
Nichols was quoted by the Sun Herald on Thursday as saying that the mayor is no longer at the rehabilitation facility.
Holloway had named Councilman Felix Gines as acting mayor in his absence. However, the seven City Council members will be able to choose another of their number to take that post after they accept the resignation of the city’s longest-serving mayor at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. City officials said a special election to fill the remainder of Holloway’s term, which runs through 2017, is expected within 60 days. It could be a wide-open affair, as candidates were already positioning themselves to run when the term was up.
A Republican, Holloway was first elected to the Biloxi City Council in 1989. A University of Mississippi football star on the great teams of the early 1960s, he worked as a teacher, school administrator and state revenue agent before entering politics. In 1992, a year before he became mayor, the Isle of Capri casino first opened in the city, attracting a long line of gamblers.
“Most of us thought gaming would bring in a few dollars and attract a few more tourists, but no one expected tens of thousands of people to come here every day to gamble on converted riverboats,” Holloway said in a 2012 city report. “No one envisioned the scope, or the impact gaming would have on Biloxi and the Mississippi coast for the next 20 years.”
Gaming taxes from the city’s eight casinos make up almost a third of Biloxi’s main pot of revenue, and the city’s property taxes are also bolstered by their presence. Casino money allowed Biloxi to spend heavily even while keeping taxes low. For example, the city school system opened a $35 million high school in 2002, part of an $80 million school-construction spree in the first decade of gambling. The city itself spent an average of $16 million a year on projects including roads, a public safety headquarters, a new community center and city building renovations.
Michael Cavanaugh, a lawyer who has worked for casinos, said the post-hurricane recovery may be the mayor’s true legacy.
“I think he will be remembered more for after Katrina and what he did to coordinate the recovery,” said Cavanaugh, a Biloxi resident.
The mayor described the hurricane as his “defining moment” in a 2012 news release from Ole Miss announcing a fund in his honor.
“It just about leveled the whole city,” he said. “The whole east end of the city was underwater. People were walking around in a daze in the streets; they didn’t know what to do.”
With the strong local tax base and federal money, Biloxi rebuilt. But the city’s population shrank by more than 10 percent following the storm, which claimed more than 5,000 structures. Large areas of the older part of what is now Mississippi’s fifth-largest city, especially near Point Cadet, remain thinly inhabited nearly a decade later.
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