Runoff candidates, victors look to future in Gretna, Westwego

After Saturday’s election brought some minor upheaval in the cities of Westwego and Gretna, some officials are looking at ways to work together while others are preparing for one last push in the run-up to next month’s final election.

Gretna and Westwego both have two new council members, and Gretna has its first new mayor in nearly three decades. Several of the candidates in Saturday’s election won their races in convincing fashion, and while they aren’t taking things for granted, they are ready to move forward with the next phase of their political careers.

Gretna Mayor-elect Belinda Constant said she’s gratified to have received nearly 60 percent of the vote in her quest to become the city’s first female mayor. However, because of a serious illness with her son, Constant thinks it will be about two weeks before she can really sink her teeth into the job of mayor.

“I’m really excited about the possibilities,” Constant said.

She plans to meet with outgoing Mayor Ronnie Harris to glean some insight from him on how the city operates. Constant also wants to reassure city employees that she will do her best to protect their jobs and work out a plan to aid them with their health insurance. Under the 2013-14 budget that the City Council will consider Wednesday, employees could see a subsidy provided for their family health coverage gradually eliminated over the next year.

Newly elected Councilman Joe Marino III plans to schedule meetings with Gretna officials in the upcoming weeks to discuss the budget and city operations. Although the council should have adopted a budget by the time Marino takes office in July, he said he wants to get a good handle on what council members, particularly outgoing Councilman Vincent Cox III, see as key issues in the upcoming fiscal year. Marino received nearly 70 percent of the vote in his election and said he looks forward to representing residents well.

“I didn’t realize I would have that margin of victory, but I knew I had a lot of support,” Marino said.

Gretna residents also elected Mark Miller in Saturday’s election.

In Westwego, the political situation is slightly different since two of the city’s races are still up for grades, particularly the race for mayor. Mayor Johnny Shaddinger and Councilman Ted Munch will be facing off in May for that position, while Councilman Melvin Guidry and former Councilman Garrison Toups are seeking the District 4 seat.

Shaddinger said on election night that as he continues to campaign, he plans to focus on the idea that Westwego is headed in the right direction. The 46 percent of the vote he received is proof that residents have confidence in his vision, he said. Shaddinger has touted the economic growth of the city during his tenure throughout the campaign.

“Look around the city at all the new businesses … Why do they come here? Because they know we have a safe facility,” Shaddinger said.

But Munch said more than half of the city wanted a change, and he believes he can capitalize on that desire moving forward. Munch said he wants residents to think about the problems with the city’s water pressure, drainage and water quality. He wants them to consider whether they believe Shaddinger has done the best job using the city’s Farmers and Fisheries Market, or whether it’s time for a change.

“We’re going to focus strictly on the issues,” Munch said. “We’re not straying from the issues. I’m not getting into personalities or things of that nature.”

Guidry said he remains confident, despite finishing second in the primary, noting that his former opponent Harris Carmardelle and Westwego police Chief Dwayne “Poncho” Munch have both endorsed his candidacy. Now Guidry is looking for an endorsement from Westwego’s voters. He said he believes he’ll get that endorsement thanks to his years of experience and track record of success.

“I’m feeling fantastic, and I’m going to win,” Guidry said. “You’re going to need that experience. It’s not getting easier to find funds on a state or federal level.”

Toups has not responded to several requests for comment throughout the campaign.

Whoever wins the District 4 race will join newly elected councilmen Johnny Nobles Jr. and Norman Fonseca on the board, as well as incumbents Glenn Green and Larry Warino.

Fonseca said he’s pleased to finally get a chance to sit on the board after more than a decade of trying. He plans to infuse the board with new ideas, new urgency and new cooperation.

“It’s been a long time coming, but if finally got here,” Fonseca said.

Warino said he’s pleased residents decided to give him another term with nearly 60 percent of the vote, and he believes it’s time for the city to start making smarter decisions. That means that whoever is elected mayor must do a better job of staying focused on crucial projects and moving them forward expeditiously. Warino has plans to do some street resurfacing in his district but also said he wants to see projects like new water meters, a new drinking water plant and a new City Hall move forward quickly.

“We still got some things we need to get accomplished in the city,” Warino said. “It’s all about Westwego. Whatever’s best for the city that’s what we need to do.”