In 2018, Slidell will be led for the first time in 16 years by a mayor who didn't formerly serve as the city's police chief.
The reason: Freddy Drennan — the former top cop who succeeded another former chief, Ben Morris, as mayor in 2010 — is term-limited, as are six of the nine City Council members, ensuring a lot of turnover at City Hall in 2018.
But when qualifying begins Wednesday for the March 24 municipal election, the field of candidates vying for mayor will still include familiar faces, three of whom have held elected office before.
Former St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis is running, as are City Councilman Landon Cusimano, who is term-limited in his at-large seat, and state Rep. Greg Cromer, a former councilman. The fourth candidate, Bruce Clement, the chief operating officer of Slidell Memorial Hospital, is making his first bid for office.
Cusimano, whose grandfather served as mayor from 1962 to 1978, has long aspired to the office, and Davis actually ran for mayor before being elected parish president. Cromer said his mayoral ambitions date back to his City Council days, and Clement was the first to jump into the race, starting his campaign two years ago.
The upcoming changing of the guard is being hailed by all four candidates as an opportunity for new ideas and progress in a city that was hammered by Hurricane Katrina and has not seen the explosive population growth that the western side of the parish has experienced.
The next mayor will face two key challenges, according to City Councilman Sam Caruso, himself a former longtime mayor: running a city that has enough revenue only for the most basic needs and rebuilding a sense of community. The candidates have been hitting on those issues as the campaign season begins.
Clement is running as the nonpolitician, describing himself as someone who wants to serve in public office for the "right reasons," an appeal to the anti-incumbent mood that's been prevalent in St. Tammany. But the 64-year-old health care executive is also touting his business résumé.
"I think we have ground to make up," he said, noting that western St. Tammany is growing faster than the east. He sees annexation as a way to make the city grow. Describing himself as "very tuned in" to growing business, he said he would make wooing companies to provide better-paying jobs a priority.
Cromer, 59, is a project manager for Jacobs Engineering who is term-limited in his legislative seat. Slidell residents are concerned with maintaining public safety, he said, but the city also needs to address chronic flooding, blight and empty storefronts.
"It all creates a picture of a community that has a lot of needs, and it needs someone with the expertise to pull in the resources to address those needs," he said.
Cusimano, 55, is a salesman for Momar Speciality Chemicals and has served 18 years in total on the City Council. He wants to see a restored emphasis on the city's neighborhoods, which along with proximity to jobs and natural beauty can lure residents and businesses, he said.
"As a sales person, you've got to sell the city," he said. "What makes Slidell the best place to live? That needs to be shouted."
Davis, 62, has been working in business development since leaving the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness two years ago. He has worked closely with local, state and federal officials, he said, and has a track record of being creative in finding revenue and accomplishing projects as parish president.
Pointing to his background as a small business owner, Davis said he would focus on job creation and a transportation plan for the city as well as flood control and revitalization. "We have to be able to stimulate our own economy to be successful," he said.
The first forum in the mayor's race is scheduled for Jan. 22 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Slidell City Council chambers.
Change is also in the offing for the City Council, which will say goodbye to three incumbents who are term-limited: Sam Abney, Caruso and Jay Newcomb.
Other current council members want to stay on in different positions. Bill Borchert, term-limited in District G, is running at large, and Glynn Pichon is also seeking the citywide seat after serving one term in District A. Kim Harbison will run for the District F seat that she held before being elected at-large eight years ago.
The two district incumbents who are not term-limited, Warren Crockett in District C and Val Vanney in District D, plan to stand for re-election.
The District A seat being left open by Pichon has drawn two announced candidates: Glenn Baham, a political consultant who worked on Police Chief Randy Fandal's campaign, and retired teacher and adult day care owner Leslie Denham.
Tommy Benasco, who ran unsuccessfully for police chief, is running for the open District B seat. The open District G seat has drawn at least one candidate, Cindy King.
Fandal, who was elected a year ago to fill Randy Smith's unexpired term as police chief, is running again; so far, no one has announced plans to challenge him.
Qualifying ends Friday.