Less than 24 hours after a stunning victory over a two-term incumbent and seven other hopefuls in the Pine Bluff mayor’s race, Debe Hollingsworth said Wednesday night that she’s already being addressed by her future title.
“Yeah, that started when the first returns came in last night,” giggled Hollingsworth, who won’t be sworn in until January. “I can’t believe how well everything went. I’m still pinching myself.
“And today, people were telephoning me and congratulating me and calling me ‘mayor.’ That’s OK, but I’m always going to be Debe.”
Hollingsworth, who claimed 49 percent of the more than 16,000 votes cast, admitted she never imagined winning outright.
“I thought I would be in a runoff (against Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr.),” she said. “When I realized I was going to win, I was shocked.”
The businesswoman and former state bank examiner said she’s relishing her victory.
“I’m looking for the right words …” she said. “I think what I feel is an overall joy in people’s voices when they tell me how happy they are about how the election turned out and the way we ran a positive campaign that unified people instead of dividing them,” said Hollingsworth. “It makes me feel so good to see how the people are coming together.
“There’s a freshness about it,” she continued. “It’s like a new attitude. People are believing in themselves and each other and in our city. It’s like the city got a blood transfusion and we’re all feeling strong and we’re ready to keep on working together to make good things happen in our town, for Pine Bluff.”
Eighteen months have passed since Hollingsworth started her campaign, and she said she believes the reason “it’s worked out so well” is that “God had His hand on it.”
“Some people were telling us that we started too soon and we would peak too early,” she recalled. “We had to guard against those hurdles, and at the very beginning, I felt that nobody here knew me outside of the business world. But we kept on going, and we could see things coming together after the (May) primaries.
“This has been one-and-a-half years that I’ll always remember. I was a no-name and had to gain the public’s trust while developing name recognition. And the journey allowed me to meet some of the most incredible people, people that I might not have met otherwise. They kept me anchored. The whole experience made me realize more than ever that our city’s biggest asset is her people.”
Hollingsworth said she had received congratulations from four of her opponents — Peter F. Daniels Jr., Clarence Davis, John James Jr. and Alderman Steven Mays.
“And each one of them offered to help in any way they could,” she said. “I appreciate that, and each one has unique ideas that can contribute to our city’s future successes. I want to work with everyone. If we put our energy together, no one can beat us.”
By early next week, Hollingsworth intends to have a transition team in place.
“I’m very structured,” she said, “and believe in planning.”
But she already knows what she would like to see first accomplished in her administration.
“I want to work with the council in reinstating a civil service commission,” she said. “That’s a concern and issue that has been voiced to me by many.”
She’s excited about becoming mayor, but meanwhile, she’s more than content as a wife, mother and grandmother.
“I got to bed about 1 o’clock Wednesday morning,” she said. “My husband (Jack Hollingsworth Jr.) had to catch an early flight to Connecticut. He called me to let me know he had arrived safely, and also to tell me that I had forgotten to pack any socks for him. And it’s cold in Connecticut.”
Laughing, she said she’s got to remember to be better focused on more than assuming command of the city.