The race for St. Tammany Parish Council District 2 has drawn four candidates — three fewer than the number who applied to fill the Covington-area seat on an interim basis when Councilman Dennis Sharp died in May.
Just over two years are left in the term of office, and two of the candidates have already competed for the seat: David Fitzgerald, who was appointed to fill the seat on an interim basis by the Parish Council, and Joe Freeman, who also was among those who sought the interim appointment. The other two candidates are Marvin Lawson, who has run unsuccessfully for parish president, and political newcomer Clark Taylor.
Fitzgerald, a 64-year-old Republican, teaches chemistry at the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy. An Air Force veteran, he began his teaching career after retiring as an airline pilot. He said he sought the interim position and then decided to enter the race, because he wants to continue the legacy of Sharp, who was a close friend.
He is married with two grown children. He received a bachelor's degree from LSU and attended law school for one year.
Fitzgerald said drainage and infrastructure are the key issues for the district, which is partly rural but also has more densely populated areas and has experienced development over the past 10 to 12 years.
The parish has done a better job recently in planning for growth, but it is still playing catch-up, he said.
Parish government as a whole needs to do a better job of communicating with constituents about how it's spending money, he said, and there needs to be more cooperation between agencies. He said it's unfortunate, for example, that a disagreement between the parish and the District Attorney's Office over legal representation could not have been resolved outside of court.
Freeman, 71, is the lone Democrat in the race. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative who has long planned to run for the seat. A native of New Mexico, he moved to St. Tammany Parish, where his wife grew up, after retiring from the Navy. He owns a mobile home parts store.
"There are issues with our streets, signs and pretty much general maintenance that the parish should be taking care of that is not being done," he said.
St. Tammany's infrastructure is the biggest problem, he said. "The population has outgrown what the infrastructure can handle. ... I’m not a tax person, not a person who wants to advocate raising taxes on businesses or people, because the average citizen is the one paying."
He said he disagrees with the parish continuing to put twice-defeated sales taxes for the jail and courthouse on the ballot and wants to look for ways to eliminate waste and make cuts.
Freeman said he would bring a different perspective to the council as an African-American. He took college courses while in the Navy and afterward but did not earn a degree. He is married with two grown daughters.
Taylor, 60, is making his first run for office after returning to Covington, where he graduated from high school, and launching a small internet-based business manufacturing tin signs. Before that, he was a writer and comedian on the West Coast for most of his professional life.
Divorced with two children, he earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in history from San Francisco State University later in life and taught for a time.
"I noticed a political sign, and that's something I always want to get into and get involved in the community," said Taylor, an independent. He said he's self-financing a shoestring campaign as "a devoted local trying to improve the lives of St. Tammany residents and trying to hold on to what makes this such a great place to live."
He sees drainage and poor planning as the most pressing issues. People feel vulnerable in their homes and are disappointed in the planning and promises made to them as development occurs, he said.
"To me, communication and resulting localized participation are the keys to helping maintain the small-town feel that folks who move here are worried is disappearing," he said. "As one homeowner stated cynically, 'We moved to paradise, and now it's Metairie.' "
As a business owner, Taylor said, he thinks taxpayers should be treated like customers, and when customer aren't happy, it's important to find out why.
Lawson, who lists no party affiliation, lives in the Abita Springs area. He ran for parish president in 2011. He did not respond to several requests for an interview.
On his Facebook page, Lawson said that St. Tammany needs new leadership and that the current government is a tax-and-spend administration that is inefficient and wasteful.
He also is critical of the Parish Council's vote to raise sales tax rates in several economic development districts without putting the matter on the ballot, calling it "adding taxes without a vote of the people."
He called drainage and streets a priority and said parish government needs to be creative about raising funds and paying for needed services first.