In the crowded pack of no less than nine mayoral candidates in Jackson, most will have to work hard to stand out and get the majority of votes in May. In that otherwise all-boys club, Regina Quinn has no trouble standing out, regardless of her gender.
Quinn officially announced Feb. 10 at Jackson State University's e-Center that she is seeking to become Jackson's first female mayor. A newcomer to the world of political campaigns, Quinn is quick to speak about the experience, both good and bad, that she can bring to the office.
An attorney for a quarter of a century, Quinn is no stranger to community involvement. The Jackson native serves on the Mississippi Commission on the Status of Women. She also helped mold the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership's Vision 2022 10-year plan.
"As a result of my work there, Duane O'Neill and others asked me to continue to work with the chamber," Quinn said.
Now Quinn serves on the Core City Committee with GJCP.
Regina Quinn on Jackson Development
Mayoral candidate Regina Quinn visited the JFP office to discuss her ideas with our editorial board. Here is an excerpt from that interview in which she talks about the relationship between the Mayor's office and city developers. [6 min/Color/Stereo/16:9 aspect ratio]
Quinn became a developer when she purchased a 7-acre piece of land off Fairwood Drive in northwest Jackson for $30,000. She was looking for a lot to build a house, but when she found the land, she decided to create a 14-lot subdivision.
"I took the bull by the horns (and) did it," Quinn said. "(I) located a surveyor, located an engineer, (and) worked through the city process to get the plat approved."
Now, Lakewood Cove is a 13-home subdivision with just one empty lot.
Community and business organizations are also familiar to Quinn. While serving as general counsel for Jackson State, she represented the university on the board of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation. She co-chaired the subcommittee on health care for BluePrint Mississippi in 2011.
Quinn is forthcoming about some less-than-positive aspects of her past as well. She told the Jackson Free Press that she filed for personal bankruptcy, as well as filed for bankruptcy in her law firm in 1996. Prior to filing, Quinn represented clients who had to take the same path. That made it easier, she said, when she realized it was the road she needed to take as well.
"Sometimes you have some issues where you have to make a tough decision," Quinn said.
The Irvin & Quinn firm has since recovered financially, and Quinn is again a full-time private attorney. She sat down with the JFP Jan. 30 to talk about the next job she wants to take on: mayor of Jackson.
How can you bring your experience as a developer into the office of mayor?
That is particularly what I'm looking forward to doing, because I think that type of experience whereby I went into an arena that was very unfamiliar to me, but I was able to pool the people around a table that had experience. That's what development really is.
What you do is put the right team together. I started asking people: "Who is good?" in terms of a land surveyor and an engineer to do this work. I just went out and got some referrals, checked on those referrals to make sure that these were competent people in their areas of expertise, pulled them together and just worked through that process to get that done.
I think that certainly would translate into what needs to happen for the city of Jackson, in terms of not only understanding from a standpoint of pulling the right team to the table, because that's critical. Developments are not easy. They can be very difficult depending on the type of development you're involved in. What's critical is having people around the table with capacity to get it done, (and) also having worked with the city of Jackson in terms of permits and planning, things of that sort.
My experience, from what I understand was different from most, because I happened to have grown up in Jackson. I know a lot of people. I know a lot of people who work for the city of Jackson. We were able to work through some things that could have been frustrating, perhaps, for some other people. So we want to make sure that when people come into the city of Jackson and they're looking to develop--subdivisions, or whatever their interest may be--we need to have something more than to just not be business unfriendly. We've got to be business friendly. We've got to be very inviting, and give people what they need that is appropriate in terms of what it is that they're asking.
We've got to be aggressive, extremely aggressive in doing that. I think that the work that I was able to do with the subdivision, and some of the other things that I've done in life, makes me, I guess, well suited for the job of mayor of this city.
In addition to the subdivision work, it is working with small businesses again. It is very heart-warming to me to ride around the city of Jackson and just look at different businesses that we represented over the years. From Lakeover Funeral Home to the Powerhouse Gym, to hair salons, to the kidney dialysis that was on Beasley Road, that has now since sold. It was called Kidney Care. Just the number of small businesses that we've represented, incorporated, helped with applications for loans (and) just provided legal counsel: that's quite rewarding.
There are big plans on some people's boards; from One Lake, to Farish Street, Old Capitol Green, a possibility of a new downtown arena. Which of these plans would you support? Which ones would you make a priority, and how, as mayor, would you help make them become a reality?
Let me tell you about process. That's who I am as a person. That's how I've been trained as a lawyer.
There is a lot of information that is being given in the papers about particular projects, but where the rubber meets the road is actually what has been presented to the city. The process that I think is just absolutely critical for anyone making a decision is to get all the information about a particular project and to make sure that those projects are vetted properly to see if they have merit in order to move forward.
Many of those projects--just reading about what the proposals are--seem to be quite promising. From One Lake, to have a project where we can have an opportunity to have that kind of an entertainment venue, it could create and stimulate a lot of economic development. Things can happen as a result. We've seen that with what happened with Trustmark Park (in Pearl), (and) the businesses that are developed around it.
That is also what is critical from the standpoint that--and I like to use a football term, because I'm an avid sports fanatic--you have to make the cut before the ball is thrown. I think that we missed a prime opportunity, because for whatever reason, we didn't properly vet this (baseball park) proposal. We ended up missing an opportunity. It's sparked a lot of development in some other cities. We could have gotten that in the city of Jackson.
Capitol Green, I don't know all the particulars of it. I will just tell you that any time someone is interested in coming to the city and developing a project, then we certainly would be all ears. We will assess all of those projects with an eye of making sure that developers bring to the table what they are proposing they can bring to the table, and at the end of the day, that the citizens of Jackson are getting what they were told that they would get, and wouldn't have to end up spending public funds that we're not in the position to spend for that particular project.
Generally, projects are done by developers with the capacity to bring it to the table. We know that with any development, it's going to be a partnership. Whether it is a public-private partnership, or whatever type of people and means come to the table, you have to be in position to not only start it, but to finish it.
(That) leads me to one of the other projects: the Farish Street project. This Farish Street project has been going on a long, long, long time. One can't help but wonder whether or not this project is one that the city of Jackson should be putting so many resources into to get so little in return.
This is a market that is very unforgiving. So, you have to make very good decisions about where you put your money, (so you have) the ability to have money to do some other things. (Otherwise,) the opportunities become more limited, because money is just so very scarce.
We're losing businesses, which creates a much lower tax base for the city. So we have to be very specific about where we put our funds. It can't be a shotgun approach; it has to be a rifle approach.
Please remind me of some of the projects you mentioned, and I can touch on those.
I mentioned a proposal for a new downtown arena that recently went before the city, but has been floating around for a few years.
When I was general counsel at Jackson State, the university proposed to the mayor (Johnson) that we would collaborate, because Jackson State does not have a stadium or arena. We thought that for the benefit of the city of Jackson, JSU and some of the other stakeholders--such as the medical center--one way to get the arena would be to pool resources to get that done.
That request was not favorable, in terms of what the mayor was looking to do. Now, as I understand it, he's proposing that an arena be placed somewhere around the Farish Street district.* I guess my thinking on that is just to look at it. I hate, once again, to speak on something without knowing all the details of what is being proposed. I would just hope that in instances where we can pool resources together, that we would work to do that. At the end of the day, if you have the Coliseum, and you're seeking to have a stadium around Farish Street, and Jackson State is proposing at some point to have a campus arena, then we get spread pretty thin in terms of what it is we're seeking to accomplish.
I think there can be some collaboration in that regard. I would have to find out more information about what the mayor is seeking to do.
Going back to Farish Street: Are you saying that as mayor you would look to go a different direction, or not give city support to the entertainment district?
No. I'm saying that I would have a process of looking at where the project is at this point. We know it has not been developed. It is very much past due from being developed. I would get the information and make an assessment as to whether this is an area that we would want to use city resources.
In terms of saying I would shut the deal down or not, it just wouldn't be prudent to make a decision of that magnitude without all the information.
You face a fairly steep uphill climb in looking to become Jackson's first female mayor, and you're facing a few candidates who have experience in City Hall and have been more in the public eye. How do you plan to overcome that?
OK, fair enough. I will just tell you this: What I would do is what I've been doing for the past several months, and that's talking to people, (and) more important than that, listening to people. I've been going to a number of homeowner association meeting and community events, and just listening to what the concerns and the issues that people have regarding our city.
I will tell you: The people that I've talked to are very disgruntled about the direction that our city is going. People are very frustrated with the city and how it has been allowed to decay over the years--from the potholes that we have to deal with on a daily basis, to the water and sewer issues, to the drainage problems.
What I would do is to avail myself to people, (and) have them look me over. I tell them the experiences that I've had over the years, and how I think that could translate into someone that can help lead this city from where it is now to what we all know it can become. That is a city that has a quality of life that people want to move here and not move away from.
How do you accomplish that?
Let's think in terms of what it takes to be an effective mayor, particularly for the city of Jackson. First, I would say you have be someone who has the capacity to do the job. I think that with the experience that I've had over my lifetime--and if you do the numbers, you'll figure out pretty quickly that I'm 52 years old--I've been practicing law for over 25 years. I've been in the business arena, then the legal arena. (That's) the experience that I've had--as being one who has represented a number of businesses; been in federal, state and local government; and one whose been the first general counsel at Jackson State, so I had to build that office.
Serving as general counsel is somewhat like being a city attorney for a small city. You're dealing with employment issues; you're dealing with economic development. You see the progress that Jackson State has made? I was very much involved in that. So I've had the experience--the legal and business experience.
The other thing is: You need someone who has the capacity and the leadership experience. Let me just give you a few examples of my leadership, and I've touched on them already. The experience that I had with the attorney general's office. I started my own law firm. I co-founded that. It took some leadership qualities to do that.
The other thing is the development that I did. I went into an area that was unfamiliar. I understand that you have to know all the particulars to do a project, but you have to be resourceful and know where to go and get people that will help you to accomplish whatever the project is that you're interested in. So I got the right people around the table. That's been done.
I will tell you: That takes more than just being a planner. It's being an implementer and actually getting it done.
The other thing is the work that I did at Jackson State. I will say: The body of work that I did at Jackson State University some time ago, back right before the football season for 2011, we got word that the stadium was being conveyed to the University (of Mississippi) Medical Center. It was no slight of Jackson State, but understanding that Jackson State does not have its own stadium and that we played football there, I decided to take it upon myself to look into what that was all about. (I) determined that is was just a situation where the medical center needed a dining facility. They were looking to get Schimmel's restaurant to meet that need.
In doing that, quite frankly, Jackson State was just overlooked. So I consulted with Dr. (Carolyn) Meyers, the (JSU) president, and asked if she was aware of it. It was pretty clear that we were out of the loop on that. I started just contacting people to let them know that we were interested in acquiring the stadium.
I was very instrumental in working that deal on behalf of Jackson State University. We worked with then-Lt. Gov., now Gov. Phil Bryant. We worked with (the Department of Finance and Administration.) We worked with (the Institutions of Higher Learning). At the end of the day, we got a piece of legislation that worked for both of the parties involved.
Jackson State now owns Veterans Memorial Stadium. I know that in doing that, it's something that folks that are alumni, and people around the JSU community are very pleased and proud of this facility. It's a great facility to play ball (in). I believe that ESPN televised a game there during that (2011) season. They look forward to coming back because of the big Jumbotron and everything else there.
Also, (because) of the work that I did there, I was asked to head up the management team for the stadium committee for JSU.
Those things speak to what is necessary in order to show leadership, and things that are required to move the city forward.
The third thing is coverage, quite frankly. You have to be one who is able to take some risks. If you're going to be successful in doing big things, you can't be risk adverse. You can't be afraid to make a mistake. Mistakes can be made. I've made plenty of them in my lifetime. One thing I love about the song by Donie McClurkin: "We fall down, but get up." I've fallen down, but I got up.
How did you fall?
I filed for personal bankruptcy; I've filed for bankruptcy in the law firm--but I didn't let that define who I am as a person, as a businesswoman and as a person that has decided that I'm not going to let that stop me. Other people looking at what I've accomplished over the years, knowing the good, the bad (and) the ugly can say: "Hey, maybe this is someone who is familiar with how to turn not just her own personal life and economic life around, but maybe Jackson needs a turnaround specialist. Maybe that turnaround specialist is Regina."
That's why I'm here saying I'll take this on. I'll face the tough issues. I'll be very candid with the people of Jackson as to where we are. (I'll show) a plan to where we need to be and be very transparent about it. I think that's what we're lacking for the city. We don't know what the plan is. What is the comprehensive plan to move this city from where it is to where it needs to be? If you know, I'd love to hear it.
That's your job.
Well, I'm ready to take it on.
With your work with Veterans Memorial Stadium, has there ever been talk about bringing a college football bowl game to Jackson, like those in Memphis, Shreveport and Birmingham?
Let me tell you: With the stadium in the position that it is now, particularly with the (new) Jumbotron, there's plenty of opportunity for that. That's one thing that I am particularly interested in.
You may be too young to remember the preseason professional football game that was held here in Jackson (New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 26, 2006.)
Oh, yeah: I remember that.
Those kinds of events, I think we are ideally situated and suited for. We just need to get aggressive about it. We are so close to New Orleans. In terms of proximity of the city of Jackson, we have an opportunity to reach out to a number of professional associations.
I've even talked to Eddie Payton about a Walter Payton Classic. He's very interested in doing that. We talked about some of the people to bring to the table in order to get that done. If we can work on specific events such as what you've mentioned, surely we can make Jackson a venue for these types of events to bring people to the city.
Of course, that would help with sales tax, and put us in a position where we could start to chip away at some of these major problems that we have. You're absolutely right.
I tell you one other area that I'm particularly interested in making sure that we pursue: that is soccer, the fastest-growing sport in the world. It is one that would do a few things for us. (First,) get our young people involved: You engage them in something that is productive, (and) it requires a great amount of discipline. I think with what our young people do, and the reason that they're getting into so much trouble these days is because we're not engaging them enough with physical activity. You tire them out and they won't have time to get in some of the trouble that they're getting into.
It's a great opportunity also for mentoring. A lot of the times, people don't consider themselves a mentor, but you'll find mentors being coaches. You'll find them just being people that are interested in spending some time with our young people, to make sure that they are being directed in the way that they need to be.
So we have a great deal of work to do, but we also have some resources in place to accomplish those types of things.
Jackson is looking at an Environmental Protection Agency consent decree that's going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars for sewer improvements. How, as mayor, would you be able to finance and complete what the EPA is demanding, while putting money towards the growing problems with our streets, and still be able to help fund projects that will move the city forward?
Let me talk first about the penalties, and they're pretty steep. When I was in law school, I worked for the City of New Orleans Water and Sewer Board. The city of New Orleans had quite a few problems in terms of its compliance with the EPA requirements.
Some of the penalties that they were assessed, instead of just paying the money over to the EPA, they presented proposals for some projects. That way, you use the money to do green projects, or other projects that will benefit your city, and have the money to go back into the city. That's one thing that we certainly need to pursue.
The other thing, in terms of where the money will come from in order to deal with this half-a-billion-dollar problem (or whatever it will cost us at the end of the day), I think that in order to do that, we will have to, quite frankly, get some help from the (state) Legislature. We need to go back and look at this 1-percent sales tax, to present it to the people, (and let them) vote it up or vote it down.
(We need to) start working on a real relationship, or rather, nurturing the relationship that we have with our state leaders. Talk about a challenge. I think that is our single largest issue in terms of this city. I don't know of any great city that has the infrastructure problems that Jackson has. We've got to deal with the infrastructure issues around this city, starting with the water and sewer issues, and being honest with the people as to what we're dealing with.
This is a tough thing to have to get your arms around and (to) come to terms with what's going to be required in order to fix the problem. (We don't need) a patch job, not at the end of the day. I need to do something, but (we need a) comprehensive plan, a long-term strategic plan, to deal with our infrastructure issues.
As I said before, (it's) not just the water and sewer issues, but we've got the drainage issues as well as the potholes to deal with. Of course, it doesn't make any sense to pave roads when your infrastructure underneath the road is substandard. All of those things have to be dealt with.
In terms of how we get at that: We get at that by first assessing where we are working, not just with our state officials, but with our congressional delegation. There may be some opportunities if Congress passes this infrastructure bank, so we can go after some of those funds to do what's necessary to fix these problems.
We may even, and I'm not saying do this, but at least have a discussion about a regional utility district, and just look at the cities that are a part of this whole process--cities in Rankin County and others who are a part of this whole system--to see comprehensively how we go about getting this thing fixed.
Have we got to get all that done before we can even begin to talk about funding something like a development project?
I don't think so. I think that what people are looking for is a plan. They want to make sure that if they're going to make an investment in the city of Jackson, that you can articulate to them how we plan, as a city, (to fix) our problems.
If you're just inviting folks to come in--and we can't show that we're doing what's necessary in order to get from where we are to where we want to be--it's a much steeper hill to climb. I think that once we can do that, then people will start to believe that maybe these folks are on their way to creating an environment where I want to have my business.
It has to be a dual approach. We can't sit around and wait for all the work to be done, because it's a very long process to get done. I think that people will take a chance on us if they see that the leadership of Jackson is moving in the right direction. That's going to have to be a new direction from where we are now.
When a lot of people talk about Jackson's business environment, they bring up crime. The city has a crime problem, or at least a crime perception problem. What would you do, as mayor, to solve that problem?
The crime problem in Jackson is both (perception and reality). Having lived here all of my life, I do feel comfortable going anywhere in this city. That's not to negate or diminish what we're dealing with. That is, we have a crime problem in Jackson.
I believe that crime stems from, primarily, three things. (First), poor educational system, that we've got to deal with. You'll find that people that commit these crimes -- property crimes, crimes of violence--usually, they are poorly educated.
Second thing is a lack of opportunities. We have to create some opportunities for our people. People tend to do things that are of this type of nature, a violent nature, when they don't have opportunities to get it legally. It's not to excuse it. It's just a reality of life.
The third thing is, I believe, that we have a drug problem in our city. It's going to take our mental health and healthcare professionals to work through that process as well.
Having said that, what I would do as mayor to get at this crime problem is to give the police officers what they need in order to be effective. We need to make sure that we are recruiting properly, and make sure that we've got the best recruits possible. We have to make sure that with those recruits, that we do our part, not just as city officials, but as citizens. Policing is a community problem. So we need to be very focused in terms of a community standpoint, what we are doing in order to make sure that we are part of the solution.
Neighborhood watch, and all those things that we currently do within the city of Jackson, of course, can always be enhanced. I would also mention the fact that homeowner associations, I think, is a key component to dealing with this neighborhood watch and crime problem. Having gone throughout this city, and having gone to numerous homeowner association meetings, I will tell you, some communities have very strong homeowner associations. Some need some help.
I think that it would be beneficial to us all if the city of Jackson, the city leaders would take a more active role in making sure that we help strengthen these homeowner associations. In turn, these homeowner associations know who their neighbors are. They are in the community, so they can help with the neighborhood watch and the community police.
In addition to that, we have to make sure that the police officers are also being adequately compensated for the work that they do. We have some great men and women within the Jackson Police Department. We have some great one. They are doing a tremendous amount of work, and good work, and just not being, as I see it, adequately paid. That's across the board, not just with police officers, but with city employees, period.
What could also help is to make sure that they get some help from the Hinds County Sheriff's Department. We need better collaboration, I believe, within the policing units. I won't just stop there. I will say sometimes you have to go across the boarders of Jackson to make sure that whatever some of these cities that are adjacent to the city of Jackson are a part of the policing unit for the city of Jackson.
*Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. has said that the city could not fund an arena anytime soon. He did, however, support funding the arena feasibility study. Jackson State is seeking to build a football stadium on campus, which would take the place of Veterans Memorial Stadium, where the university currently plays its home games. The arena study was for a 10,000 to 12,000-seat arena that would not be large enough to house an NCAA regulation-size football field.
Visit jfp.ms to read more of the JFP Interview with Regina Quinn. Email Jacob D. Fuller at [email protected]