If you’re a fan of Shreveport history, politics or just plain good conversation, you’ll want to get your own cup of coffee and settle in for this issue’s Shop Talk- Shreveport Mayors Edition. In the midst of editorial planning for 2016, Shreveport Magazine realized that our city currently sits on a treasure trove of collective wit and wisdom in the form of six former Shreveport mayors: Bill Hanna (1978‐1982), John Hussey (1982‐1990), Hazel Beard (1990‐1994), Bo Williams (1994-1998), Keith Hightower (1998‐2006), and Cedric Glover (2006-2014). Over the course of a few days, the Magazine and the Mayors took a trip down memory lane through nearly 40 years of Shreveport history, recalling the highs and lows of a job that all these former chief executives rank as one of the most exhausting, but also most rewarding pursuits of their lives.
Q: What are your most positive memories of your time as mayor?
KH: I had a lot of fun, and a lot of good things happened. One of the biggest “high-five days” was the day the city council voted to give us the authority to go and build the convention center and the Hilton Hotel.
JH: I had fun, too. People would come up to me and they’d say, “How can you stand it? Why’d you want to do that?” I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to do it – I really enjoyed it.
BW: It’s hard to single out a particular day, because we had a tremendous number of things occur. I just enjoyed the work and being able to serve our community. I enjoyed trying to help the little guy the most, during my tenure on the city council as well as in the mayor’s office. I remember on one occasion we got the city council to approve an ordinance so the city could tag abandoned or inoperable vehicles and tow them, and I remember we went out to the Mooretown area and there was a car sitting on the side of a vacant lot, with no wheels. I went out just to see the first car tagged with that sticker so they could tow it. As we started to leave and I went back to my van, an elderly gentleman was sitting on his front porch and called out, “Hey mister- what’re they doing down there?” I told him that they had tagged that car to have it towed, and he said, “Hallelujah! That’s been the drug place for years.” So that was a good memory.
BH: My favorite memory was making a trip to Washington DC, to promote the decision to construct I‐49. The following was included in a news release by a Washington correspondent: “Despite being slighted by a federal highway administrator, John Hassell, Shreveport’s Bill Hanna may nevertheless have the makings of an agreement to locate 1-49 along the western route preferred by the city.” Included in the meeting were “Buddy “ Leach and Senator Bennett Johnston and Russell Long.
CG: The job itself was a great thrill- the experience was a great thrill. Just the act of winning and sharing that victory with all of your family, your friends, and your supporters- all of the joy and the exuberance that was expressed that night was tremendous. In terms of specifics, a couple of things come to mind: April 2, 2011, when we passed the largest bond proposal in the history of the city ($175 million dollars) against some rather vigorous organized opposition and managed to get all three of the propositions passed with 60+% approval from the voters. I think that was a great affirmation of the collective leadership and vision that we offered. Also in 2011, the first year of my second term, we set the record for the lowest homicides ever officially recorded in the city, with 20, and that was only the second time in the history of the city that the total number was under 30.
HB: What I enjoyed most about being mayor were the interactions I had with the citizens of Shreveport, all the way from going to the schools and reading to the children to observing the improvements we were able to make within the city.
Q: What were the toughest challenges you faced as mayor?
HB: It is a 24/7 job (and I hate that term!), and it was an all‐consuming job. It doesn’t have to be, but my personality is such that I made it that, and consequently it took all of my time and energy. Actually that was one of the reasons I did not run for a second term. Deciding not to run was an impulsive act, and if I had taken a couple weeks off I probably would have been happy to run again.
KH: I think we all would agree that the schedule was grueling. You had no time to go on vacation, no time to see your kids grow up, no time to spend with your family. For me, the toughest challenge was the Marquise Hudspeth incident in 2003. It really was volatile in the city and it was the type of event that could have torn the city apart. Thank goodness, I had formed a lot of good relationships with the African‐American community during my campaign and administration. We brought the preachers in and everybody settled down and everybody understood that we couldn’t let this get out of hand, that we would investigate this thoroughly. Nothing was out of view, nothing was behind the curtain or under the table. Everybody came together and understood the importance of keeping the city together and not tearing it apart. But that was a tough, tough couple of months.
BW: I agree with Keith — the schedule was grueling, and you had no time. You could have gone to ten functions a night sometimes and still not make them all.
BH: When I served as mayor, I came to the conclusion that in politics, as a leader, you cannot operate the city as one might in business. There are so many people to answer to in politics.
JH: I would mention two things. During the eight years that I was mayor, there were three police officers killed in the line of duty, and that was tough. The police department and the fire department are kind of like families, and when they lose somebody it’s like losing somebody who’s a family member. We also lost one firefighter during the time that I was mayor. We also had the so-called “Cedar Grove riot” in 1988. Two young women went to a 7‐11 in Cedar Grove trying to buy some drugs, and when the drug deal went sour they pulled out a gun and shot into the crowd and killed somebody. The crowd became unruly, unreasonably so, and they ended up burning down the store. They also burned a Channel 3 car, and Channel 3 sent that to CNN. And so all of a sudden we were on national news as having a riot in Shreveport. We were able to stop it and keep it from getting out of hand, but we got more publicity from it than we should have.
CG: Obviously, I have to agree regarding the schedule. Specifically, I can remember February 2007, which was the first Black History Month after I was elected mayor, and the number of requests to speak at churches and various groups and organizations for 100 miles around was just overwhelming — requests were in the hundreds. I can remember specifically scheduling, on every Sunday that month, an 8 o’clock service, an 11 o’clock service, a 3 o’clock service, and a 6 o’clock service at a different church. But even after having done all of that — I’ll never forget — March rolled around, and I was at another function somewhere else in town and I noticed a woman looking at me, very intently. When I approached her, she told me she had voted for me and had my signs in her yard and had gotten everyone she knew to vote for me, too, and all she wanted was for me to speak at her church during Black History Month. And I didn’t do it. That was eye‐opening, because it helps you understand: part of the nature of this job is that you will never be able to effectively do all of the various things on a given day that somebody may want you to do, much less actually doing the work of the job itself. As mayor, you also take on a larger responsibility for the safety and security of the folks who are part of the Shreveport family, and some of the most poignant moments for me were when children were hurt. Traveon Hunter is a name I will never forget, because he was a nine year old boy killed in a drive‐by shooting while he sat in the front seat of his uncle’s car in Queensborough. Those were the types of things that always unnerved me, and bothered me, and in large part accounted for why I tried to go to the scene of any homicide that occurred in the city. You take it personally, and you want to send a message to anybody involved that a homicide against any citizen of Shreveport is a homicide against the entirety of the city.
It’s notable that many of you served on the city council before becoming mayor. Do you think the council is a natural stepping stone to the mayor’s office?
BW: I would say it was a tremendous help. When I ran for city council I had no idea I’d ever run for mayor. My thought was to try to serve my community and help build the city, but as I served on the council I learned the budget and the process of how local government works. It’s a tremendous learning curve. I couldn’t imagine going into the mayor’s office with zero experience in government, such as going from the private sector directly to the mayor’s office. I would imagine that would be a tremendous challenge.
KH: I felt like I was a lot more unprepared to be a city councilman than I was to be the mayor. When I got to be the mayor, I felt like I was ready to roll, and knew what I wanted to do, knew how the system worked at city hall, and how to get along — and how to count to four, which was the majority of the city council. So I felt prepared. And even running 3,000 employees didn’t scare me. I knew the main thing I had to do was to have good managers in every spot. I had run a car dealership for several years before that, and to this day I don’t know how to work on a car, but I always knew how to hire the guys that did. It was no different at the city. You just hire good managers to take care of your business, and they knew that their job was to do their job, and as a result, you have the windfall of looking good. So, being on the city council absolutely helped. When I became a city councilman, the three of us (Cedric Glover, Bo Williams, and myself) were all there together, and I think we were all scared to death at the time. Fortunately when we came on, we had some guys that had been there before who held our hand and showed us the ropes.
BW: But you know there were six of us who were brand new. Joe Shyne was the only returning councilman. But, as you say, we had the advantage of about a month between the election and the swearing‐in to go through the budget process and hear the current councilmen give us the benefit of their advice. I remember one statement Bill Bush made that always stuck — he said, “Don’t commit too early, until you hear both sides of the story.”
CG: And we did have during that period of time — very briefly — the benefit of former mayor Calhoun Allen, who had come back to run for city council District B. So from November up until February, when he passed away, we had the benefit of someone who had been in the mayor’s office and had some experience and some exposure, so that helped to season us a little bit. Unquestionably, the city council gives you a view of the mayor’s office that I think helps you immeasurably.
HB: Serving on the city council was very beneficial to me for learning about city government, but in a sense it does not prepare you for being mayor, because this is a legislative position. It was difficult to switch from a legislative background to an executive background. I’m convinced it’s harder to be a female in an executive position. You’ve got to be 100% correct. You’re not expected to be able to handle the job, so you have to show that you can, first of all.
“My thought was to try to serve my community and help build the city…”-Bo Williams
JH: There is a huge difference. City council is a part-time job, although sometimes it doesn’t seem like a part‐time job. But it is a part‐time job, and you are part of a group that is getting legislation passed or not passed, whereas if you’re the mayor, you’re in charge of all of the departments and you appoint the department heads. You’re in charge of running the police department, the fire department, the public works department which covers streets and drainage and garbage pickup, and also the water and sewer department. You are all of a sudden in charge of all of these things, and each one of them is a fairly sizeable business. You can be overwhelmed by that job, but that also makes it exciting.
Q: So if a young person came to you and said, “I’m interested in being a mayor one day,” would you recommend starting at the city council?
JH: I have done that with a lot of candidates. A lot of candidates come to me and say they want to run for Congress, or run for mayor. And I tell them, “Start at a lower level. Start with the city council.” And you’ll find out a couple of things — you find out if you enjoy that kind of work, and you find out if you can handle it. A lot of people just can’t handle these jobs. (Former U.S. Congressman) Joe Waggoner told me that there’s two ways that people react to an elected job. He said, “Some people grow in the job. Some people just swell.” And I find that to be true. Once you run for city council, you not only get the experience, but the public knows that you can handle the elected position. And not everybody can handle it.
CG: You also learn very quickly if you really like people — you may say you do. Getting elected to the city council will really test whether you really like people.
Q: What do you miss the most about being the mayor, or wish you had some more time to do?
CG: People have asked me to describe what it’s like to be the mayor of your hometown. Being mayor of your hometown is like having the opportunity to be the quarterback of your favorite football team. When things go well, you get more credit than you deserve — when things go badly, you get more blame than you deserve. But you are the quarterback. You get a chance to do something that is very special, very unique, and singular in many respects. There is a mythology that surrounds being a chief executive, whether you’re mayor, or governor, or the president. Being given the opportunity to do that by your fellow citizens is very special and very humbling, and I think for most of us ends up being something that you enjoy a great deal. You feel blessed and humbled to be given that opportunity, and I think most of us would go back and do it again.
BW: The opportunity to serve your local community is an honor, without a doubt. In the process of campaigning, for example, you knock on doors and meet people you would never meet otherwise. Regardless of the office, when you’re running, you meet a tremendous number of people. To me, that was one of the most enjoyable things about my time in public service. Eventually, they might call you and you have an opportunity to help them — maybe a stopped‐up sewer drain or whatever it happened to be. It was rewarding.
JH: I agree that it’s an honor and a privilege to be the mayor. One thing that you find out when you get into the office is that it’s not as powerful as you think it is. The mayor is the only elected official who is elected by all the citizens of Shreveport, and the citizens of Shreveport have a larger idea about the mayor’s power. They think the mayor can get anything done. And when you get to be mayor, you wonder if you can get anything done. On the whole, it’s a privilege to do it, and it’s a great job. I enjoyed it a whole lot, and I’m glad I did it. Not sure I’d do it again, but I’m glad I did it!
BH: I miss working on the problems of the city. When there was a problem, I would go straight to the people and focus on a solution.
HB: I had three challenges to meet when I entered office: addressing gangs and the crime rate, improving infrastructure, and maintaining and improving the water and sewage system. I appointed Steve Prator as Chief of Police and he did wonders. This was one of the best appointments I made but one of the hardest. I had a lot of policemen who were higher in rank and length of service than Steve. I saw a leader in him, but I was scared. Here was this girl from Winnsboro, LA, and I’m going to hire the police chief of Shreveport? So I didn’t trust myself. I meditated and prayed about it and finally just decided on him — he was the best choice. We also had the EPA breathing down our neck so we developed a ten year plan to put new pipes in, particularly in the old Highland area, and the EPA gave us the time to do it. We had that underway. One of the things I miss the most is the completion of these projects. The ten-year plan didn’t continue, and now, in retrospect, I wish I had taken some time off and stayed on and seen the completion of all of this.
KH: I was flattered to be elected, and as these guys have said, it was an honor and a privilege to do it. It’s a small group that have ever held the office, so that’s a pretty big deal. There were certainly a whole lot more “better days” than there were “worse days.” I feel like we did a lot to move the city forward. You feel a sense of accomplishment, being able to point back and say, “We got things done while I was there, whether it was bricks and mortar or a uniting of the people.”
Q: What were the greatest lessons you learned from your time as mayor?
BH: I learned something very simple: “The only permanent thing is change.”
KH: I think you learn that there’s a lot of times that people see things very differently. You learn that there truly are a lot of different backgrounds and different views of different subjects. You have to sit back and realize that what is purple to me might be deep blue to Cedric. You learn to listen more than anything, and then you learn to consider all views. It’s like Bo said, you don’t commit right away. There may be another path. So I learned to sit back and listen and look people in the eye when they talked to me and say, “It’s worth listening to you.”
CG: I learned that there are a lot of people who are committed to Shreveport, who believe in Shreveport, who love Shreveport, who want the best for Shreveport. There is nothing wrong with Shreveport that can’t be fixed by what’s right with Shreveport. I think that if more people had the opportunity to see what you see as the mayor of this city, that you may have fewer of us who end up having “Shreveport-itis.” Because there are people all across the city — in our neighborhoods, downtown, our civic groups, our businesses — who are doing some wonderful things and who want to be a part of helping to grow and advance and uplift the city. The challenge as mayor and for us as the city as a whole is figuring out how you manage to coalesce those folks together in a way that gets them all pulling in the same direction so that you can actually see some growth and some advancement.
HB: It absolutely expanded my horizons, both personally and professionally. Before that I had a very closed frame of life, I guess you would say. The most I had done was teach Sunday school and was president of the PTA. So there was a long way for me to travel, and I worked with people I’d never worked with before.
BW: There is a tremendous pool of talent in Shreveport. And you’ve got your naysayers. But you go to any city in the country and you have this situation. Life is what you make out of it, I don’t care where you live. We’ve survived as a city and we’ve continued to grow. It’s the people who are good, hard-working, and who love this place that make it great.
JH: One of the things I learned is how small my world was. When you get to be mayor, you get to go a lot of places that you didn’t even know existed, and you get to know a lot of people that you didn’t know before. I was struck by the fact that the four of us probably would not have met if we had not been mayor. Now we not only know each other, but we’ve had a great shared experience. Shreveport is not a big city, but you don’t realize how small your world is until you get into something like this. I’m very encouraged about some of the things that are going on here now. We have a lot of young people who are getting involved in the city — much more so than in the recent past. You guys are examples, starting this magazine. You’ve got to be crazy to do that. But you’ve got to be crazy to run for mayor.
Q: Give us a peek into “life after the mayor’s office.”
CG: It gets quiet very quickly. Up until the morning of December 27, 2014, every couple of minutes my phone would vibrate with an email — a major note of some sort, or something from a staffer, or somebody: asking, sharing, imploring. It was always something, and you go from being right there with your hand on the wheel and your foot on the gas to having all of that obligation, duty, and responsibility appropriately transferred to the new person. You go from having a phone and an email that goes off every couple of minutes to only hearing from your wife and your mother and your close friends. It’s going from a very breakneck pace and very intense activity to seeing those duties carried on by somebody else.
BW: First, I’ll say I’m glad I didn’t have email. The transition back to civilian life, for lack of a better term, was kind of strange in a way. But yet I went right back to what I was doing. I would have people call me wanting me to do such‐and‐such and lean on so-and-so, and I’d say, “You need to call Mayor Hightower’s office about that.” I don’t want to get involved. I’d even have news people call me and ask, “What’s our opinion about so‐and-so?” but I don’t want to criticize the succeeding mayor, because I don’t know all the facts and why he made that particular decision, I’m not going to second-guess him. You shouldn’t try to undercut the successor. It was probably ten years before I could go into a store without spending two hours talking to various people.
KH: The code that Bo was talking about — not criticizing the person that comes after you — is true for everybody. But we all blamed everything on the guy before us! It’s been good — I realized the day after I got out that I needed to go back to making a living again, so I went and got to work. It’s still flattering to be around town and have people call you “Mayor,” it doesn’t matter how long you’re out — people still call you mayor. It goes with the turf, and it’s flattering every time you hear it.
BH: I continued to serve with the city. I applied for work with the Parish of Caddo and was hired as Director of Buildings and Grounds in 1994. A year or two later I was promoted to Assistant Administrator and shortly after, was promoted to Administrator and Chief Executive Officer. I held that position for 12 years.
JH: When you’re the mayor, you’re the center of attention wherever you go. When you’re out of office, it’s different. There was one incident that helped me prepare for life after the mayor’s office. I was in Baton Rouge at a seminar and I was in line behind Governor Bob Kennon to register for the seminar, and I talked to him briefly. He got up to the head of the line, and the young woman who was handling the registration couldn’t find his registration, and said, “What’s your name again? How do you spell that?” I knew when I left the mayor’s office, that was going to happen to me — how quickly they forget! Bo said he didn’t have email – I left the mayor’s office in November of 1990, and that was 25 years ago, so it’s a pretty long time. The city of Shreveport at that time was fairly technologically advanced for our time, but there was no email, no Internet, people didn’t have computers on the desk. We had one fax machine in the city of Shreveport — a fax would come in, and we would gather around and watch it. I think that the technological changes have speeded things up.
HB: My husband had always wanted to live by water, and he wanted to move somewhere where we could live on a lake. We moved to the Austin area, and I’m glad we did because my husband didn’t live much longer after that. I finally wanted to get closer to Shreveport — I missed it! So I moved back to the Longview area, and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s an association of about 50 homes, and I was president of the association for about two terms. Once you’ve been mayor (whether deserving or not), you have earned the title of being smarter than you really are.
Q: You may have all left the mayor’s office, but we’re giving the platform once again. Do you have a message for Shreveporters in 2016?
KH: It’s what you make of it. If you put something into it, you’ll get something out of it. It is now and always has been a great place to raise a family. It’s a good place to be a big fish in a small pond, if that’s what you choose to be. Opportunities abound. It’s a good, safe, quality place to raise a family – so don’t give up on it.
CG: Take pride in the city. It’s important that we as Shreveporters –people who love and are committed and are invested in the city — that we take pride in it, that we show our support and our love for it and that we manifest that through our actions. We should work to address the issues and challenges that the city faces and hopefully help to overcome those, to make it the kind of place, as I said during my first run for mayor, that those of us who are here want to stay, and to make it more attractive and intriguing for those folks that we ‘re trying to get to come here. In addition to that, I think those who are not in the city of Shreveport, but who live in either the parish or the surrounding area, need to develop an understanding that we are a part of a region and that every aspect of that region needs to be strong — especially Shreveport as the economic and cultural center and heart of that region. The real advancement that’s happening right now in America is happening at the city level — probably more specifically the metro region level — and you have areas that are figuring out how to overcome their regional boundaries and develop a common identity and a common vision and then work together more cooperatively. Too many times you end up with Shreveport going one way, Bossier going another, Caddo going another, as opposed to us understanding that there is a great deal of commonality. The folks between Baton Rouge and New Orleans are already forming what they call their “super region” to make their area more competitive from an economic development standpoint. We’ve got to, in my estimation — for our long-term viability, have got to learn how we better do that here in Northwest Louisiana.
BH: I want people to know that any accomplishments I received credit for are certainly not mine alone. The employees that I worked with in Shreveport as mayor were -‐ with few exceptions -‐ honest, hard‐working, and good people.
BW: Love, respect, pride, ambition – you’ve got to have all of that in order to make it successful, whether it be your individual life or the city. People need to love one another, from themselves on up. We have to respect one another’s points of view, even though we may not agree with one another, we have to listen and see what their logic is. We may wind up agreeing, we may wind up disagreeing, but we have to respect one another. I encourage people to take pride in themselves. And of course, ambition: get up off your rear end and go do something, don’t just sit around and complain.
HB: Talk about the good things in Shreveport! Talk about SciPort, talk about all of the sports that come here. There are so many good things about Shreveport, but the negative has taken over in the eyes of so many. Another thing I’d like to say is that the voters need to be educated voters. They need to decide for themselves and learn who they’re voting for and why they’re voting for them, instead of taking someone else’s advice.
JH: I think we all agree that Shreveport is a great place to live. I’ve loved my life here. People complain about the lack of growth in Shreveport, but Shreveport is a great size. With a city this size, if you get involved in things, you can have an impact on it. I have personally known every mayor of Shreveport from Clyde Fant to Ollie Tyler — if you lived in Dallas, I don’t think you could say that you have known every mayor from the 1940s to the present. In Shreveport you can do that sort of thing. You can start something, and make things happen. There is such great opportunity here, and I’m glad to see people taking advantage of it.