VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Vicksburg mayoral candidate Linda Fondren says she’s proud of her long list of accomplishments: building businesses from a gym to storage facilities and housing with her husband, volunteering for nonprofits, leading an ambitious local weight-loss program, raising a family, and traveling the world after a childhood in poverty.
But as the primary election nears, Fondren is fighting to keep her qualifications front and center as attention focuses on a part of her life she hoped wouldn’t go public: Her work as a legal prostitute during her 20s and later her part ownership of a Nevada brothel. Prostitution is legal in some parts of the state.
Fondren, 57, acknowledged her past work in Nevada’s legal brothel industry after local media exposed the story.
“That was a part of my life, that’s not who I am now,” Fondren said in an interview with The Associated Press from her campaign office, a converted former fast food restaurant. She said she doesn’t regret the experience because it helped shape her into the person she is today. Fondren met her husband and business partner when he was a client.
Dennis Hof, owner of the Nevada brothel where the HBO reality series “Cathouse” takes place, said he knew the Fondrens when they owned a nearby brothel, the Sagebrush Ranch. He said Fondren undoubtedly learned business skills that would serve her as mayor, and he hopes she would champion legalized prostitution in Mississippi.
Fondren, however, is less rosy about her time in the brothel business: “I hated it. I hated it.”
Asked whether she would support legal prostitution as mayor, she was unequivocal. “Absolutely not,” she said.
Fondren said she grew up in Vicksburg as a middle child in a large family, with 12 siblings. She got pregnant at 14, a few years after her mother died of cancer.
“We, as children, were kind of fending for ourselves,” Fondren said.
She took her 3-year-old daughter to live with family in California. There, she earned a GED and went to technical school. Later she got a job at a San Francisco bank.