Three running for Westwego mayor

Westwego voters will choose from three familiar faces as they decide who will lead the city of 8,500 residents that is perched on the precipice of major changes.

Mayor Johnny Shaddinger, Councilman Ted Munch and former Councilwoman Lisa Valence are once again squaring off to secure the city’s top political position. The three candidates ran against each other roughly five years ago when Shaddinger was first elected to the position in a special election.

Westwego is about to begin construction on a new $3.8 million City Hall financed entirely by the federal government. It just received approval for a new $3 million water plant and is planning another $800,000 in improvements to its parks. The city is poised to see some serious shifts, and each candidate believes he or she is the best person to handle those changes.

Shaddinger’s victory in a crowded special election four years ago was something of a long shot given his previous stint as a political outsider and his single term as a council member. But he says he was elected because residents recognized how hard he would work for them. He believes that the past four years have been proof of his work ethic, and he was wants to continue in the job to finish that work.

“I’m running for re-election because I want to continue what we’ve done,” Shaddinger said. “We’ve been able to achieve a lot in a very short time.”

Shaddinger said he fought to make sure the city received funding for the City Hall, and he’s supported the idea of building a unique water plant even though it wasn’t his initial idea. The city has made repairs to its water intake system and is planning improvements to its sewer plant. Westwego has been moving forward at a rapid pace, and the eagerness businesses have shown to relocate to Westwego is proof of what he’s accomplished with the help of other city officials, Shaddinger said. He said he has the relationships with officials around the region to keep the city moving forward.

“You’ve got to have a working relationship with those people who can make things happen for the city,’ Shaddinger said.

But Munch said the city needs a steady hand with experience and vision to lead it moving forward. Munch has served on the council for more than three decades, and he said that longevity has prepared him for the top job better than anyone else.

Munch, who recently retired from his longtime job working for the railroad, said Westwego needs a leader who has a clear vision for where the city is headed.

“My heart is in Westwego. I understand the city, the process, the people and the problems,” Munch said. “We’ve got to come up with a long-term plan.”

Munch said the city must address its issues with water pressure and water quality, which have been serious concerns for years. Politicians can’t try to fool residents or hide the true extent of the problems the schools face, he said. Munch said he has experience in corporate, public and military service.

“I have the time and means to focus on the job,” Munch said.

Valence is making her third attempt at becoming mayor, and she said she keeps coming back because she’s disturbed by what she feels is stagnation in the city. Valence said she’s watched the mayor and council bicker for years and things didn’t get accomplished because of it. She believes she can end that bickering and make Westwego a top flight city.

“I just want it to be a great place for my grandchildren to grow up,” Valence said.

Valence said that means securing alternate funding sources besides the state Legislature, and she has experience finding grants. As a former principal, she said, she also understands handling personnel issue and believes she can better manage the city’s employees. Valence has long advocated for Westwego creating a true “master plan,” and she said that would be one of her goals as mayor. She said the city needs a focused, steady hand to guide it forward.

“When you look at the day-to-day business of this city, it’s the small things that aren’t getting done,” Valence said.