Harrison County

Why does the Biloxi mayor want to hire a lobbyist with ties to Thad Cochran and Trump?

Keith Heard, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, could become a lobbyist for Biloxi.
Keith Heard, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, could become a lobbyist for Biloxi. For The Washington Post

Lobbyists are doing a brisk business in South Mississippi, with hundreds of millions in oil spill damages being divided up, and Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich wants the city to be prepared.

Gilich will ask the Biloxi Council on Tuesday to hire Keith Heard, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and president of Key Impact Strategies, to represent the city and go after federal and state funds for economic development.

Heard would be paid $10,000 a month plus some expenses for during the four-month contract, with renewal options for an additional four months.

Gilich has his eye on securing a bigger share of more than $600 million in BP Economic Damages Settlement money, and hundreds of millions in Restore Act, Tidelands and Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) grants over the next couple decades. Getting Heard to represent Biloxi can reap “huge dividends,” Gilich said.

Biloxi isn’t the only city on the Coast looking for leverage. In October, Pascagoula hired Redshift Strategy, a firm operated by a consultant named Kirk Thompson who worked on on the campaigns of Mayor Dane Maxwell and Councilwoman Jennifer Colmer, along with Donald Trump, Phil Bryant for governor, Tate Reeves for lieutenant governor and U.S. senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran. Pascagoula agreed to pay $10,000 a month for the next six months.

Gilich said Heard will represent Biloxi exclusively among Mississippi cities in Jackson and Washington, D.C.

“These are not ordinary times,” Gilich said, “and we can’t afford to miss any opportunity to leverage substantial federal and state funds for economic development projects that will help Biloxi grow and prosper.”

As chief of staff for Cochran, Heard was involved in the appropriations process that directs federal spending. Gilich said Heard worked with Biloxi to secure federal and state funding for the $35 million Keesler Air Force Base entry gate project.

A native of Noxubee County, Heard is a graduate of Mississippi State University and was a 2016 delegate for Trump to the Republican National Convention.

Last month, he was featured in a Washington Post article for being a lookalike for Steve Bannon.

In 2015, Biloxi council hired R. Scott Levanway as a lobbyist for $2,500 a month, primarily to help advance the Gulf Coast Fiber Initiative in the state legislature.

Sun Herald reporter Karen Nelson contributed to this report.