Westwego candidates say voters to choose status quo or change

Four political hopefuls in Westwego are making their final cases to voters in the May 4 election that has been framed as a choice between staying the course and shaking things up.

Westwego residents will decide whether to re-elect Mayor Johnny Shaddinger or support his challenger, Councilman Ted Munch, as the head of the small city. Voters also will decide whether to grant Councilman Melvin Guidry an eighth term as the representative of District 4 or return his challenger, Garrison “Gary” Toups, to city government after an eight-year absence.

Candidates say the issues in the race remain the same from the primary election. Residents are still concerned about the city’s recurring problems with water pressure and water quality. Westwego has been struggling with low water pressure for months, and although the city recently announced plans to construct a new water plant, that project still must be funded.

In addition, residents have questions about a proposed new city hall, the fate of the Farmers and Fisheries Market and the city’s increasingly tight budget, candidates say.

Shaddinger said he’s tried to impress upon residents that Westwego is headed in the right direction due to his leadership. He said that the city already has preliminary state approval to build the new water plant and the funding for the new city hall, and is regularly attracting new businesses. Anyone who says that projects aren’t getting done on his watch hasn’t been paying attention, Shaddinger said.

“How can you say that nothing is going on and there have been no improvements? Where have you been,” Shaddinger said, stressing that he believes the key to being mayor is taking care of both small and large issues. “I have every phone message since I’ve been mayor, and I review them and I find out what people called about and whether we were able to help them,” he said.

Munch said the city needs an experienced hand as it tries to navigate changes to its water and sewer operations and he’s the candidate with that experience. Munch has been a councilman for more than three decades, and he said he formerly had direct responsibility for monitoring the sewer plant. If elected, he said that he will eliminate delays in moving projects forward that residents have been seeking for years.

“I’d really move that process onto the front-burner and move it rapidly,” Munch said. “I’ve got the knowledge, and I’ve got the experience to get the job done.”

In the newly re-aligned District 4 race, Guidry has racked up endorsements from several of the city’s current and past politicians as he tries to assume Munch’s mantle as Westwego’s longest-tenured council member. Police Chief Dwayne “Poncho” Munch, State Rep. Robert Billiot and Councilman Glenn Green have all supported Guidry, who claims that’s a testament to his ability to collaborate with others to get things done.

“You have to have a working relationship with everybody to make the city move forward,” he said.

Guidry noted that he’s been instrumental in getting recreation improvements in Westwego and already has drainage and street improvements planned for the areas newly added to the district during the redistricting process. Guidry said he wants one more term to wrap some projects up.

But Toups said Guidry has racked up a long list of endorsements because he’s the establishment’s candidate, while Toups is the candidate of the people.

Toups noted that he spent eight years as a councilman in District 5 and knows how the city works. He thinks Guidry and others have had enough time to fix problems and have failed.

“I know I can move the city forward and not backward,” Toups said. “They should have fixed these problems. I’m going to fix them.”