The race for the District A seat on the Slidell City Council pits an experienced political consultant against a retired educator, with both saying the local economy needs a boost.
Glynn Pichon is leaving the seat to make a run for one of the council's at-large spots in the March 24 primary.
The candidates seeking to succeed him are consultant Glenn Baham, a Republican, and Leslie Denham, a Democrat who retired from teaching in New Orleans and now serves on Slidell’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
District A — which is bordered on the east by Interstate 10, on the west by Front Street, on the north by Fremaux Avenue and with a south end that hugs Pontchartrain Drive down to Spartan Drive — has historically been represented by a Democrat.
Much of the district consists of Olde Towne and Washington Heights, which is mainly African-American.
While both candidates are black, Baham hopes to break the Democratic hold on the district, though neither candidate said they consider party affiliation to be much of a factor in the race. Instead, the main issue for them is making Slidell a place where people can build their careers instead of having to move away to find good jobs.
Baham said he hopes to build on what Pichon did over the last few years. The two are close; Baham ran Pichon’s campaign in 2014. Baham said that if he goes two days without speaking to Pichon, his wife jokingly asks him if they “broke up.”
Pichon’s campaign is one of several Baham has worked on since he moved back to Slidell following Hurricane Katrina. Others include the campaigns of current Police Chief Randy Fandal and Pichon’s predecessor in District A, Lionel Hicks.
Though Baham is originally from Slidell, he said he had to leave to find the right job opportunities. That’s a pattern he’s seen continue with younger members of his family, and ending that cycle is his biggest hope for his city.
“We have seven kids and 23 grandchildren, and we’re tired of making our traditional holiday trip to the airport” to visit them, he said.
Baham said the city is in a perfect spot for economic growth, given its proximity to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and that with a lower crime rate and higher quality of schools compared with Orleans Parish, companies should be flocking to Slidell.
But they’re not — at least not yet, he said.
He blames a lack of marketing and said the city needs to make itself more visible to companies, such as by running TV commercials.
Baham also hopes to see Slidell start a light rail system, like the one in Denver, the city where he lived before moving home.
A system that connects the Slidell Harbor Center with Fremaux Town Center and Olde Towne would attract high-tech jobs and make Slidell attractive to younger people, he said.
“Slidell could be a destination city,” he said.
Denham has spent much of her life outside Slidell, but she points to the active role she has taken in the community since retiring from her role as a teacher and school administrator in Orleans Parish for 17 years.
Besides sitting on the Planning and Zoning Commission, she serves as president of a neighborhood association and is an active member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
She moved back to Slidell, where she was born, after Hurricane Katrina, much like Baham. And much like Baham, she sees a major problem with the direction of the Slidell economy.
“One of the biggest issues is sales revenue in the city,” she said.
Slidell has taken a hit recently as the retail industry moves toward online shopping rather than brick-and-mortar stores. Just in the past few weeks, both Target and Toys R Us announced they would be closing their Slidell locations.
Denham thinks Slidell can replace some of the lost revenue by attracting family entertainment centers, such as children’s museums and small indoor amusement parks, to fill spaces left by closed retail businesses.
If Slidell had more of those, she said, people would stay in hotels there and spend their money in the city, rather than traveling to the Gulf Coast or New Orleans.
But it’s not just in keeping big-box stores that Denham said the city’s been struggling. “We have a lot of private small businesses, and some of the business owners feel that they’re not getting enough support from the city,” she said.
Other problem areas Denham said she would address include drainage and street maintenance.