April 15, 7 p.m. – “The future of East Biloxi and Point Cadet,” Slavonian Lodge, east Biloxi: East Biloxi, particularly Point Cadet, was once the bustling focal point of Biloxi’s thriving seafood industry. The shorelines were lined with factories and the streets were lined with a collection of shotgun houses that were home to a melting pot of shrimpers and seafood workers. As the seafood industry diminished in favor of waterfront casinos, East Biloxi has seen its share of ambitious plans — before and after Katrina. And, today, after the ravages of Katrina, Biloxi’s east end remains generally barren and void of residents. What’s the future? What will work? What’s doable? Panelists: Bill Kilduff, Carol Burnett, Richard Gollott, Clay Gutierrez, Thomas Vu, Fofo Gilich, James Crowell. Moderator Gerald Blessey.
Gerald Blessey was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, July 8, 1942; graduated Biloxi High 1960; B. A. (Political Science) Ole Miss 1964; J. D. Ole Miss 1966; LL.M. Harvard Law School 1970; served as a 1st Lt. U.S. Army in Vietnam, 1967-68, where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He was Assistant Professor of Law, Ole Miss Law School 1968-69. He is currently practicing law in Biloxi.
During the ‘60s, Gerald was active in the Civil Rights Movement. As a law student, he initiated the historic 1966 visit by Senator Robert Kennedy to speak at Ole Miss. Gerald was an intern in Mississippi’s first legal services program for low-income citizens, in Clarksdale, MS in 1966.
Elected from Harrison County to serve for ten years in the Mississippi House of Representatives, 1972-1981 (Chair, Municipalities Committee), Gerald authored the Act to make Gulf Park a degree-granting branch of the University of Southern Mississippi, the Act to create the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, the Coastal Wetlands Protection Act, the Open Meetings Act, and the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office, co-authored the Act to create the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, and was a leader for fully funding public education. He was selected Outstanding Freshman Legislator in 1972.
Gerald was elected Mayor of Biloxi for two terms, 1981-1989, where he led the award-winning Biloxi Waterfront Master Plan of 1985 that brought the first legal gaming cruise ship to Mississippi. He sponsored, through local legislators, a new law to allow gaming in state waters, resulting two years later in the creation of dockside gaming. He wrote and sponsored, through local legislators, Mississippi’s Tax Increment Financing Act, first used in Biloxi. His peers elected him President of the Mississippi Municipal League in 1988.
Post Katrina, Gerald served on Governor Barbour’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, as Chair of the Land Use Committee. He has been a member of the Board of the Gulf Coast Business Council since its inception, and led the creation of the Gulf Coast Renaissance Corporation’s initiative with local banks and non-profit housing advocates that created the $100 Million ‘MyHome/MyCoast’ affordable mortgage program for low-moderate income residents. Currently, he chairs the Business Council’s Coast Higher Learning Study Committee that will make recommendations in 2015 to enhance institutions of higher learning on the Coast.
In August 2008, Governor Haley Barbour appointed Gerald to serve as the Coast Housing Director to oversee Mississippi’s $2.6 Billion KCDBG housing programs for residents whose homes and apartments were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He negotiated the State’s settlement with the Mississippi Center for Justice that dismissed litigation against the $600 Million expansion of the State Port at Gulfport and created the final Katrina housing program, the $170 Million ‘Neighborhood Home Program’ for thousands of residents in 14 counties, mostly elderly and disabled, whose homes had not been restored by earlier programs.
The Mississippi Coast Chamber of Commerce awarded Gerald its highest honor, the “Spirit of the Coast Award” in 2010, for his contributions to city, state and nation. The United Way of South Mississippi awarded Gerald its highest honor for public service, the Tocqueville Award in 2011. The Coast YMCA awarded Gerald the Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2012 for his lifetime of service to the community.
Previously, Gerald received the Distinguished Service Award from the Biloxi Chapter of NAACP, the National Service to Youth Award from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Gulf Coast, and the Volunteer Laureate from the Mississippi Industrial Development Council.
Gerald and his wife, Dr. Paige Gutierrez, have two daughters, Grace and Mary. They are members of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Biloxi.