Drainage and small business development are top priorities for the candidates running for the District 4 seat on the East Baton Rouge Metro Council, a position soon to be vacated by term-limited councilman Scott Wilson. 

The seat represents much of the city of Central and the eastern edge of the parish, an area that has been ravaged by flooding and is now struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic's effect on the economy. 

The only Democrat in the race, Tenika James, 43, owns a mental health counseling service. She wants to implement a mentorship program that helps students explore career paths that don't require four-year degrees by pairing them with local business owners.

“The time has changed and things are different, so if we try to get kids at a young age and put some positivity in their lives, maybe we can make a difference in saving one child, reducing our crime rate, and trying to point them in the right direction to give the opportunity,” James said.

She said she'd also work to make sure small businesses receive their fair share of city-parish contracts, and focus on improving the region's drainage so families aren't left on-edge when hurricane seasons approach. 

Matthew McCoy, 55, travels frequently for his job as a quality assurance manager and said he was motivated to enter the race after witnessing the successes and failures of other cities. He said if Baton Rouge is going to thrive, it needs to attract more businesses. 

"We need to have policies that entice economic development. We need to bring businesses in, and more importantly, keep businesses from leaving," McCoy said, adding that the city-parish needs to ensure businesses feel safe where they're located. 

He said it was a shame that there were parts of town that lacked easy access to basic needs like grocery stores and said he'd look into requiring additional training programs for municipal workers managing road improvement projects. 

"I just want to do things that are right for the people and I want to make sure our council sticks to the constitution," McCoy said. 

Another small business owner, Aaron Moak, believes Baton Rouge has become stagnant and needs a business-minded push to continue growing. The 48-year-old Republican owns an IT business and currently serves on Central's city council. He wants to pursue a downtown-to-LSU tram and continue the work of improving the district's major thoroughfares. 

“When you look at cities moving forward, they have things to do, and Baton Rouge has some great events and areas, but overall there’s got to be things to bring people in and give them things to do, business-wise," Moak said. 

Moak said he's long been drawn to public service and began volunteering as a junior firefighter beginning at age 13. He served as the president of Central's chamber of commerce, served on the planning and zoning committee and had two stints on the city council, one ongoing. 

“I’m looking to take this knowledge to the next level on the Metro Council and bring our issues forward,” Moak said.

Candidate Lon Vicknair, 39, a Republican, grew up in Baton Rouge then left for 20 years to serve in the Navy. After moving back a little more than a year ago, he felt a growing need to become involved in the future of the city-parish. 

Vicknair said his approach would be multi-faceted, because one issue flows into the next — fixing blight, working with law enforcement, addressing rehabilitation, increasing education and promoting business.

“We need to knock down some of the 'haves' and 'have nots,' because we see that a lot in Baton Rouge and it’s a driving factor in the creation of some communities like Baker, Central, Zachary and St. George,” he said. “What can we do to make Baton Rouge as appealing as possible, maybe at some point even to get these cities back into Baton Rouge?”

He said he's interested in enforcing existing policy, not creating new ones, and said he'd work to invest in small businesses. 

“We need to look at what we can do to keep the jobs we have, the companies, the small businesses that have been destroyed during this coronavirus,” Vicknair said.

Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.