What do political opponents clash over in a town where, for the most part, there are no problems?
That’s the question the 10 candidates for Mandeville’s five City Council seats are asking themselves in advance of Saturday’s election. Mandeville has plenty of money, little violent crime and the economic oomph to draw new businesses.
“You don’t have to worry about crime and unemployment and blight,” said Clay Madden, an incumbent at-large councilman seeking re-election. “Running for office here is a pleasure.”
Madden’s sentiments are widely shared among the 10 candidates, all Republicans. All of them cite Mandeville’s quality of life as the city’s chief draw and a resource to be protected.
But just because there are few problems doesn’t mean there are no issues in the races. The chief one is a proposed 78-acre development on the lakefront east of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Brothers Michael and Marcus Pittman want to build a 430-home, mixed-use development called Port Marigny on the site of the old PreStressed Concrete plant.
At the top of many neighbors’ concerns is the project’s density and the impact it would have on local traffic, which can be heavy at peak commuting hours.
“Port Marigny is basically the mantra for this campaign,” said Carla Buchholz, who now represents the district that includes the site. Buchholz is leaving her district seat and running for one of the two at-large council seats.
Like many of the residents who have packed the numerous public meetings to discuss Port Marigny, Buchholz said the traffic and density questions have to be addressed.
Madden agreed. “Everybody feels the same way: The property needs to be developed; they like the idea. They just think the density is too much,” he said.
Lauré Sica, the third candidate in the at-large race, noted that Port Marigny is a bigger issue on the city’s east side than it is west of the Causeway, where the impact on traffic would be less.
The race for the at-large seat appears to be fairly wide open. Of the three candidates, only Madden has won a citywide race. Buchholz is trying to go from a district seat to at-large and has had to work to get her name known in the parts of the city that are less familiar with her.
Sica, a former clothing store owner, has faced an even greater task in gaining name recognition. But she’s not daunted. “It’s going great,” she said of her campaign.
The race where Port Marigny seems to be least important is in District 1, where incumbent David Ellis is pitted against former Councilman Jerry Coogan. The district includes much of the western side of the city, and both candidates said Port Marigny looms less large for voters there than in the other two districts. Both agreed that most voters in their district say they favor the development as long as its impacts are not too severe.
For Ellis, the district’s major concerns are the traffic and drainage problems along La. 22, which is frequently congested.
“We need to work with the parish and with the state to do whatever we can to get some attention” on the area, Ellis said. “It’s terrible, not only the traffic, but the drainage.”
Coogan attacked Ellis for being part of a council that voted to spend public money on a bypass road between La. 1088 and Pelican Park, an area that is outside the city limits.
Coogan, a friend of former Mayor Eddie Price, who left office in disgrace and served a federal prison sentence, said he didn’t think his association with the former mayor would hurt him in this election.
“Jerry Coogan didn’t do anything wrong,” Coogan said. “The only negative light I was put in was my friendship with somebody who made some mistakes and served his time.”
The lone race without an incumbent is that for the seat Buchholz is giving up in District 2, which includes much of the middle part of the city, including the Port Marigny site.
Among “the people who want to take the time to talk to you, that’s the only question,” said Mike Pulaski, a semi-retired lawyer who is vying for the seat. “Without reservation, people want something out there.”
His opponent, insurance agent Melinda Crawford, agreed. “I think Port Marigny is a very large and important development,” she said. “It’s the biggest we’ve ever seen.”
Both Pulaski and Crawford echoed the often-voiced concern about the project’s density and its impact on traffic, with Pulaski saying the impact on surrounding neighborhoods has to be minimal and Crawford saying the project needs to be done in the “right way.”
When asked what it’s like to run in a city with few problems, both stressed a need to maintain the city’s character while still growing.
“Some people want to blow up the bridge,” Crawford said. “But we have to make sure we grow in a controlled way.”
“The city’s in good shape,” Pulaski said. “We have to make sure it stays that way.”
Among the council races, that in District 3 may be the most personality-driven, with incumbent Ernest Burguières having earned both ardent admirers and vociferous critics for his at-times confrontational style. Both challengers — John Keller and Jeff Lyons — mentioned Burguières’ reputation when discussing why they got into the race.
“That’s one of the reasons I ran — some divisiveness on the council,” Keller said.
“If you like Ernest’s style and what he stands for, don’t vote for me,” Lyons said.
Keller and Lyons are both seeking their first political office, but they are no strangers to Mandeville politics. Keller’s father served on the council, and Jeff Lyons’ father, Bubby, served as mayor.
The district they hope to represent includes Old Mandeville, the area along the lakefront that includes many of the city’s more historic homes.
Though Port Marigny is technically in District 2, its effects would be felt heavily in Old Mandeville, and Burguières has been leading the skeptics’ charge, even though the proposed development hasn’t gone before the council yet.
“I think (my constituents) would like it developed but in a way that fits in with the community,” he said. He pointed to another, older development, Mariners Village, which he said was begun with grand plans that never materialized. “No one wants to see a repeat of Mariners Village,” he said.
Keller pointed to the same example and said the city needs to focus on developing the Trailhead, a public area along the Tammany Trace, a popular bicycle and walking path. “The more we develop that area, the more it will attract people,” he said.
Lyons said he would focus on keeping an eye on the city’s finances. He said the council’s proper role is overseeing the administration while not attempting to interfere in day-to-day operations — a position that echoes a common complaint of Mayor Donald Villere.
All three candidates also pointed to flood protection as a major issue the city will need to address in the coming years.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.