Covington’s mayoral and council at-large candidates took part in a forum hosted by the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce and the Covington Business Association on Feb. 6 at Fuhrmann Auditorium.
Three of the four candidates for mayor attended, including businessman Mark Johnson, current city councilman Rick Smith and former mayor Candace Watkins. Businessman Timothy O’Hara, also a candidate for the job, was invited to participate, but did not, citing personal reasons.
Jerry Coner, Patrick McMath and Larry Rolling, all candidates for the two at-large seats on the Covington City Council, attended the forum. Coner is the District B councilman, and Rolling represents District D. McMath currently is a councilman-at-large.
About 300 people attended the forum. A 30-minute meet-and-greet session in the foyer of the auditorium was followed by a question-and-answer session on stage. The council candidates went first, and the mayoral candidates followed after a short break.
Russ Cantrelle of Hancock Whitney Bank moderated the event.
The mayoral candidates each offered short opening and closing statements and answered several questions relevant to city management. Johnson said naming a liaison to the parish government and the state Department of Transportation and Development is a priority, as is flood mitigation and working to improve the West 30s neighborhood.
Smith cited city safety, smart growth and maintaining a good rapport between the mayor and city council among his priorities, and Watkins said better city planning, increasing commerce and drainage are top issues.
The candidates agreed on many questions posed during a “lightning round” in which they responded to a series of queries with a “yes” or “no” answer.
All three said they would set aside funds to improve the city’s ox lots to maximize parking and beautify the areas and that they support the West 30s Task Force as well of legislation to protect Covington’s historic neighborhoods.
The mayoral candidates did not support the improvements and modifications of the Menetre Park public boat launch and were split on annexation of Oak Alley Meadows subdivision (Johnson said he supports it, and Smith and Watkins said they do not.)
Council at-large candidates answered a similar series of questions, but on different topics. All three candidates listed infrastructure and drainage as top priorities.
Coner said public service is important to him, and McMath said attracting new businesses to Covington’s historic downtown is vital to the city. Rolling listed business retention as an important factor and said a workshop series he started for area business owners when elected as a district councilman is proof of his commitment to city merchants.
The primary election for Covington's municipal races will be held March 30. Any necessary runoffs will be held May 4.
Also, the Alliance for Good Government will hold a forum at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at City Council Chambers, 222 Kirkland St. Candidates for mayor, at-large and district council seats will attend. The public is invited.
For more information, email Mike Oster, chairman of the St. Tammany Chapter of the Alliance for Good Government, at email@example.com.