Constant takes reins in Gretna

Belinda Constant officially took up her post as Gretna’s mayor Monday, becoming the first woman to hold that post since the city was founded 100 years ago.

After taking her oath of office, Constant turned to those packed into the Mel Ott Multi-Purpose Center for the ceremony and called on the residents to serve and help build a better Gretna.

“I want to ask you to join with me and I want to give you a call to serve,” Constant said. “In order for us to meet the needs — your needs — we need your help.”

Several hundred people showed up to watch the inauguration, which marked only the seventh time in Gretna’s history that a new mayor has taken the reins of the city.

With new councilmen Joe Marino III and Mark Miller taking seats to replace Constant and her opponent in the mayoral race, longtime Councilman Vincent Cox III, it also marks one of the most significant turnovers in city government since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Council members Wayne Rau, Milton Crosby and Raylyn Beevers and Police Chief Arthur Lawson were also sworn in to their new terms.

The inauguration comes a day after Westwego’s elected officials took their own oath of office. Mayor Johnny Shaddinger was sworn in to his second term in office, alongside council members Glenn Green, Johnny Nobles, Norman Fonseca, Garrison Toups and Larry Warino and Police Chief Dwayne Munch.

Constant, who became the city’s first female council member just before Katrina struck the area, took 58 percent of the vote in an April election. She replaces former Mayor Ronnie Harris, who decided not to seek another term after nearly three decades at the city’s helm.

The new mayor has said she’s been considering running for mayor since 2000 and described her time on the council as an apprenticeship. Constant, who previously ran Jefferson Parish’s drug court program and then her own court reporting business, has pledged to make the city’s services more adaptive to residents’ needs and improve infrastructure.

The new council members laid out agendas of their own during the ceremony.

Marino said he would fight for the city’s historic district.

“One of my main priorities is to maintain that historic district and preserve and protect it,” Marino said.

The successes of Harris’ term in office presented only one problem, Marino joked. It wouldn’t be possible for new council members to one day say that they had found the city in bad shape, he said, and turned it around.

Miller, a former recreation supervisor, has said he plans to focus on programs for youth.

“I look forward to continuing to make Gretna a great place to call home,” Miller said.

And the historic nature of her inauguration was not lost on Constant.

“Ladies, it only took us 100 years but we’re here now,” Constant said.