GONZALES — Harold Stewart, a former member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission captured 53 percent of the vote in Saturday’s special election to fill a seat on the City Council.
Stewart held off two challengers to win the seat of ousted Councilman Timothy Vessel, who was recalled in December. Stewart managed to win the election outright and avoid a runoff by capturing 677 of the 1,270 votes cast, according to complete but unofficial returns from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
Derrick Coco, a Democrat and newcomer to politics captured 37 percent of the votes cast, while real estate broker Willie Robinson, who is not affiliated with any political party, got 9 percent.
All three threw their hats in the ring for the Division C seat on the at-large council to fill the remainder of Vessel’s term that ends Dec. 31, 2016.
The recall effort followed a contentious year for the five-member Gonzales City Council, which is elected at-large. Vessel, along with former Councilman Gary Lacombe and longtime Councilman Terance Irvin, became locked in bitter disputes with Mayor Barney Arceneaux and others. They disagreed with the other two council members about the budget and tussled over requests to change zoning in the fast-growing city.
Eventually, a recall effort targeted Lacombe and Vessel. Weeks before the recall election, Lacombe resigned from office, while Vessel lost his seat at the ballot box.
Neal Bourque, one of the leaders of the recall effort called Save Gonzales, was elected when he was the only candidate to sign up for Lacombe’s seat last year.
The new council member will serve with Bourque and Irvin, along with Kirk Boudreaux and Kenny Matassa, who recently announced his run for parish president in the fall.
Stewart, 51, the owner of Stewart’s Barbershop in Gonzales, has said voters “are looking for education, common sense and intelligence in their city leadership.”
“Your job as a councilman is to be an asset to the city, not a liability,” said Stewart, a Democrat who made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the council 14 years ago, then later served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Stewart has said he was inspired to run after getting involved in the recall effort.
Coco, 38, an operator at the Rain CII plant in St. James Parish, also pointed to the tensions on the council as his motive for running.
“I got sick of complaining on the sidelines, so I decided to get in the game,” Coco said.
Robinson, 36, has said he wants the city to provide more help to young people. Robinson, the owner of Ascension Realty of Louisiana, said he wants Gonzales to open a community center where children could get help with homework.
“The youth not having things to do outside of school hours” is a concern, said Robinson.