The race to fill the Slidell City Council District E seat has drawn two candidates, both Republicans in their 40s with backgrounds in information technology, who sound similar themes about the city's need for economic development.
Kenny Tamborella and Chris Symons are both political newcomers who are stressing their professional résumés in campaigning for the northeast Slidell seat. They are vying to replace Sam Caruso, the former longtime mayor who is term-limited in his council seat.
Symons is vice president of WNS, which he describes as a global business process management company. He specializes in travel industry marketing, business development and e-commerce and cites a résumé that includes work with high-tech startups.
Tamborella is an IT director with Northrop Grumman, a job he says involves managing a $3.5 million budget covering operational and program support across nine states. His work has focused on supporting state and local government contracts.
Symons said he is running because he wants to make a contribution in the political arena after having achieved success in his career.
He said Slidell has been on what he calls "cruise control" for the last 20 years and that while its leaders have been good stewards, they have not been people with business acumen. He said he wants to help the city tap into economic growth around it.
Symons cited Slidell's proximity to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans and thus to the Stennis Space Center and the Michoud Assembly Facility as strengths but noted that when DXC Technology decided recently to open a new "digital transformation center" in New Orleans, "we didn’t have a seat at the table."
Some employees going to work at that center will be looking for a safe community with good schools, he said, and Slidell needs to lure some of them.
"We can’t be so dependent on sales taxes from retail. We need to be able to expand the base," he said, noting that there are empty storefronts around town.
People in District E have drainage concerns, Symons said, and he's worried that some of the work that has been done has been "halfway work."
"People feel left out. They feel they don’t have a voice," he said. "Over my business career, I've been known as a coalition builder ... able to negotiate complex deals and work with different personalities."
He said he wants to create a District E homeowners association alliance that could meet quarterly and that he plans to hold monthly question-and-answer sessions on Facebook Live or Skype to communicate with constituents.
Tamborella said he believes his private sector experience would benefit Slidell. For 12 of the 20 years he's been with Northrop Grumman, he's worked with state and local governments on outsourcing IT contracts that he said save money and help foster economic growth.
Jobs are a priority with Slidell residents, he said, and they also want to see North Shore Square, the largely empty mall, revitalized. The mall is close to the Slidell Airport and not far from rail lines and could become a distribution hub or a business park, he said.
District E residents also want to see their flood insurance premiums lowered, he said, noting that there are areas that experience high water during rainstorms.
Tamborella said he wants to pursue realistic opportunities for economic development, like attracting computer software companies and others that provide collateral services to the Stennis Space Center, which is planning an expansion.
"What's separating me and my opponent is he's touting his past online sales and marketing firms as cutting-edge technology," he said. Tamborella said he has a proven track record of providing solutions to foster economic growth in cities with populations of 1 million to under 100,000.
"We live here, we love to live here. It's time for residents to work here as well and not have to commute," he said.