Quentin Whitwell, 39, was born in Memphis and grew up in Southaven and Oxford. His father, Robert Q. Whitwell, served as the U.S. Attorney for northern Mississippi from 1985 through 1993. After graduating from Oxford High School, Whitwell earned his bachelor's degree from Ole Miss in 1995 and his law degree from the school in 1998.
Since college, his career titles have included lawyer, lobbyist, novelist and now Jackson Ward 1 city councilman.
Soon after law school, Whitwell moved to Jackson and worked as an attorney and lobbyist. In 2006, he helped start The Talon Group LLC, a lobbying and consulting firm, along with former City Councilman Chip Reno. His lobbying clients this year include Delta Technical College, Freedom Prosthetics LLC, Mississippi Mortgage Bankers Association, Treasure Bay LLC and Cash in a Flash, among others.
The Jackson Free Press caught up with the Ward 1 councilman Monday, June 4. He said it was his time between undergraduate and law school that got him involved in politics.
You worked on a presidential campaign?
Yeah, I worked for Lamar Alexander, who is now a U.S. senator from Tennessee. He'd been governor of Tennessee and education secretary under (Ronald) Reagan. He ran in the Republican primary when (Bill) Clinton was running for re-election, and he lost to Bob Dole in the primary. I got to go to Iowa and work in the first caucus (of the year). It was a great experience. I did advance work, drove the press van, set everything up before all the town hall meetings. It was an incredible experience. It was one of those things where, if I didn't already have the bug, I had it after that.
Why did you decide to become a councilman?
I knew (former Ward 1 Councilman) Jeff (Weill) was rolling off after getting elected to be a judge. I had some people ask me if I was interested in it. I just really thought it would be a great way to make a difference. I'm limited in what I can do at the state and federal level right now with my lobbying practice, so the city level was more manageable on the conflict side. So I decided to go for it. Of course, my lobbying partner, Chip Reno, was on the Jackson City Council (from) '97-'01. He served in Tony (Yarber)'s seat.
Have you ever had something come before the city that you had to recuse yourself on because of a conflict with your lobbying practice?
Yeah, it's just like (any career). It's like when Councilman Yarber was a principal of a high school, he couldn't vote on education issues. There was a time when I did some work for the Watkins Development group, trying to help them with some contractual issues on funding. I wasn't able to vote on those issues when I represented them.
You've done some lobbying for payday lending. What do you think about those companies?
Well, I believe that payday lending is an alternative financing source for many people who are either unbankable or do not desire to utilize the services of banks and the banking industry.
I think just like any industry, there are good ones and there are bad ones. I certainly think the ones I represent are some of the good ones, or I wouldn't represent them. The things that we have worked for over the years, with the companies that I've represented, (we) have actually tried to seek lower interest rates and longer terms to help their customers. I don't think anybody would argue with that.
(Note: See sidebar, top right.)
I don't think there are as many payday lending places in your ward as there are in a lot of the others. Why is that?
Well, the market bears out where the customers are. Apparently, there are more customers in other places.
What needs to be the city's No. 1 priority right now?
Good question. Citywide, we need to do a couple things. First thing we need to do is get past petty politics, petty racial tensions. Understand, I say that with a sincere heart, because racial tensions are not petty, but the folks who try to aggravate or push people apart for their own purposes, we've got to get past that and all start working together. I'm sure there was a time when people were saying, "Is this a majority black city or a majority white city?" Well, that pendulum has already swung, so there's no reason to be trying to push anybody out of this city at this point. As a matter of fact, we should be trying to bring people in, no matter who they are.
From a development standpoint, both economically and as far as the population goes, some of the goals that I think are most critical (are) first of all, we need someone to paint a vision. We need someone to give us a picture of: "This is what Jackson could be in five years, 10 years, 20 years." I try to do that from one council seat, but we need it at the top level. I really want to see more of that.
For me, I believe the easiest, fastest, quickest way to put Jackson, Mississippi, on the map is to open Farish Street. It's just so easy. They've spent so much money, and all they need is one very last piece that will have them open within 90 to 120 days. If I was in charge, so to speak, I would say, "What do we have to do to get that going?"
(Note: Watkins Partners is redeveloping the Farish Street district. Whitwell lobbied for the Farish Street Group in 2011.)