DENHAM SPRINGS — There’s a taco truck on the road to the Mayor’s Office.
Two candidates are vying to take over from outgoing Denham Springs mayor Jimmy Durbin. Republicans John Wascom and Gerard Landry appeared for a debate in the high school gym Oct. 7 ready to verbally spar on points of governance, administration and their visions for the city’s future.
What they got were six questions submitted by the public and winnowed down by the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee.
One of those questions asked their thoughts on a proposed ordinance that would regulate health, safety and operation standards for food trucks. There is one food truck regularly operating within the city limits, serving Mexican fare out of La Frontera’s lot on Florida Avenue.
Yet the divisive issue of food truck regulation revealed some fundamental differences between Landry’s and Wascom’s promised styles of leadership.
“It is absolutely terrible,” Wascom said of the proposal.
He made multiple vows throughout the evening to keep his hands off businesses if elected, while Landry took a more moderate approach.
“There have to be regulations, and I’m not talking about choking (businesses) down” he said.
Landry said the ordinance would help keep diners from getting sick and protect Denham Springs’s brick-and-mortar restaurants.
“(The ordinance would) take an honest man out of business,” Wascom fired back, intimating it had been drafted by people who were “not business-friendly.”
When asked how he would attract corporations considering a move to Denham Springs, Landry said he would work to help them transition easily to the community. He also said it is important to make sure the business is a good fit for the city.
“(Denham Springs) can’t pretend to be better” than a business looking to relocate, Wascom responded. “You do everything you can to attract businesses to Denham Springs.”
Wascom also blasted a passed ordinance he said could shutter businesses that don’t live up to city hall’s landscaping standards.
A company that could be closed over a few dead bushes was probably doomed already, Landry retorted, saying the ordinance was “not that prohibitive.”
Store sign restrictions also drew comparisons between the candidates. Landry called them “necessary” to promote traffic and keep the city beautiful. Wascom said they could be too restrictive for businesses struggling for visibility while competing with the Internet.
Neither candidate had a perfect performance at the forum.
Landry at times appeared stiff and dispassionate next to an energetic Wascom. Wascom, however, rambled well beyond his allotted time on several occasions, while Landry’s responses abided by the event’s rules.
The prospective mayors have also discussed their relationships with the city.
Wascom owns four automated car washes, two that are in Denham Springs. He said he understands the concerns of local business owners.
Because he does not run any companies inside the city limits, Landry said, he is free to make unbiased decisions. He owns Landry’s Markets Inc., a grocery chain, and previously spent 25 years as a manager for National Supermarkets, where he says he oversaw 20 stores with hundreds of employees.
Wascom, meanwhile, has touted his 16 years serving on the city council, saying he is already familiar with Denham Springs governance. In an interview, he said he is best-positioned to continue the city’s growth.
“It just seems that we’re getting into a groove and making things happen,” he said.
“We’ve got too much progress going on to start over again.”
At the candidates’ forum, Landry pointed to several statements made by Durbin — who he counts as a supporter — in which the current mayor said his own time on the council did not prepare him for the top job.
Landry believes his experience handling finances, overseeing employees and administering a company will help him lead the city as a business.
The candidates also agree on many issues, including the need to address drainage, traffic and development along Florida.
Election Day is Nov. 4. Early voting starts on Oct. 21 and ends on Oct. 28.