Mark Wright left a hole on the Covington City Council when he made a successful run last year for the District 77 seat in the state House of Representatives.
Now, a trio of newcomers to local politics are vying to replace him in Covington's District C, which encompasses a large triangular area along the city’s western edge.
Tim Burke, Tiffany McGary-Cyprian and Joey Roberts are all making their first run for office, and they all say drainage and how to manage continued growth in the Covington area are the key issues in the election.
The victor will finish Wright’s council term, which ends June 30, 2019. The primary is March 24, with a runoff on April 28 if necessary.
Burke, who is retired from the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has lived in Covington for five years after moving from Metairie, but he quickly become well known in municipal affairs.
He has spoken regularly at Covington City Council meetings on drainage problems in and around the Oak Alley subdivision where he lives, and he has appeared before the St. Tammany Parish Council and parish Zoning and Planning Commission.
He served as a delegate to a regional drainage summit Wright convened following widespread flooding in Covington in March 2016.
“We moved here for a lot of the same reasons other people do, in that we didn’t want to deal with water problems and being below sea level,” Burke said. “So I was shocked to see water in the streets after storms when we’re 35 feet above sea level.”
Burke’s house backs up to the Blue Swamp Creek, which is a major drainage artery in Covington. His house didn’t flood when the creek spilled over its banks in 2016, but he said continued growth to the north of the city means he might not be so lucky next time.
Burke said his previous government work with “terrain analysis, professional planning and strategic operations” would serve him well on the council.
“It was organizational science meets politics of reality,” he said. “It works that way on any level."
McGary-Cyprian used the March 2016 flood to springboard into public service.
Her husband, a local contractor, was renovating the former Greyhound bus station in Covington when the water rose. McGary-Cyprian put out a message via social media that she needed a space to begin a relief program, and the building’s owner said she could have free use of the space.
That was the genesis of Project Blessings, a charitable effort that distributed disaster supplies to some 1,400 people that spring. Her charitable work continues as she organizes Christmas gift drives for children and seniors, as well as school supply collections for students.
McGary-Cyprian said she can do more on the City Council.
“Public service is nothing new to me,” she said. “I know how to reach out to a community.”
McGary-Cyprian took a leave of absence from her job as activities and marketing director for the Council on Aging St. Tammany to run. She shares concerns about drainage and infrastructure needs and said she would work to speed up projects to address those issues.
She also would like to see improvements to Hubie Gallagher Park and advocates a unified homeowners’ board consisting of members of the River Forest, Barkley Park and Oak Alley boards.
Roberts also cites his community connections as a reason why he should be elected.
As executive director of the West St. Tammany YMCA, his job involves communication with a cross-section of business and nonprofit groups.
In addition to the YMCA, he’s worked closely with the local Boys & Girls Club, Kiwanis, COAST, the Children’s Advocacy Center’s Hope House and Community Based Vocational Education, which teaches workplace skills to special-needs students.
Prior to his work with the YMCA, Roberts spent 12 years in the St. Tammany Parish school system, where he worked as a special-needs aide and basketball coach at three schools.
He was a member of Covington Mayor Mike Cooper’s Commission on Healthy Living, but he stepped down from that post to dedicate more time to the council election.
Roberts said his experience at the YMCA would help him be an effective councilman.
“You’re juggling many different things, different communities,” he said. “And you always are listening to what people’s needs are.”
Roberts agreed that drainage improvements and planning are key to Covington’s future. He applauded the current council and administration for the work they've done and said he’d like to help continue the effort.