Mayoral candidates Wiford Carter and Nic Hunter. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, April 20, 2017 12:47 PM
At a Wednesday forum, runoff mates Nic Hunter and Wilford Carter didn’t shy away from openly disagreeing on how the next mayor of Lake Charles should lead the city.
The two garnered the most votes out of the eight original candidates for mayor at the March 25 election. Hunter received 34 percent of the vote, and Carter received 16 percent, leaving 50 percent of the vote up for grabs in the run-off.
One subject the two went back and forth on during Wednesday’s forum was the option of financing large infrastructure projects, like improving the city’s sewage system, through bonds.
Hunter said the city needs to take an aggressive approach to funding projects by going out for bonds now while interest rates are historically low.
Waiting for more money before trying to finance those projects would be “tripping over dollars to save cents,” he said, and would stagnate the local economy.
Carter said he would “hesitate” to go out for bonds because he staunchly opposed increasing taxes to pay for those bonds.
Hunter objected to the idea that bonds would mean higher taxes, saying he would use existing revenue to finance the bonds. But Carter insisted that, even if taxes stayed the same, the bonds could tie up revenue streams unnecessarily.
Carter said he would focus, rather, on getting federal dollars when possible to fund projects. Both candidates agreed that the biggest projects, like improvements to Interstate 10, would have to be federally funded.
Although both have made lakefront development a priority throughout their campaigns, they disagreed on whether the city should maintain ownership.
Hunter said the city should lease the land out to small developers, so that residents have a say on how the lakefront is used. But Carter said leasing the property is not a priority for him, only getting businesses up and running within the year.
Carter said he envisions a convention center and a five-star hotel for the lakefront, while Hunter said his plan hinges on small restaurants and locally-owned businesses. But both emphasized the importance of a pro-active approach to lakefront planning as the key to the city’s economic success.
On how to make the area more business-friendly, Carter said the key is changing its attitude.
“Attitude is everything,” he said. “If we get the right attitude and our employees helping people, helping businesses, we should do just find. And it starts from the top.”
He also suggested waving sales tax on sewer installment for new developments.
Hunter said he would develop programs that allow new businesses to pay for services and sewage installment over time, making many businesses possible that would not have been otherwise.
Carter said he would be effective in getting items passed by City Council because he would actively seek out enough votes to win a majority.
Hunter said Carter was proposing an illegal quorum that would violate open meetings law. Carter rebutted that he would stay within the scope of the law when securing council votes.
On zoning, the two agreed that adjustments could be made to the current set-up, in which the city and parish have separate zoning boards, but said that change would be limited.
Hunter said he would work to combine city and parish zoning offices into one building to streamline the now-complicated process. But he was not in favor of consolidating city and parish bodies, saying the two had “their own identities.”
Carter said he would address zoning board issues by having council members involved on the front end of zoning decisions, instead of seeing the zoning requests too late in the game to make changes, to ensure a democratic process.
Both candidates said they found no immediate fault with the city’s code but are open to making changes as needed. They both said they were in favor of smart annexation and growth in all areas of Lake Charles.
Carter said his experience in the military, as a city councilman, a district judge, state legislator and the developer of four local subdivisions qualifies him for the job and would uniquely enable him to work with people from all walks of life.
Hunter said his experience on the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and as owner of Harlequin Steaks and Seafood since the age of 17 qualifies him for job, and both cited their personalities as major qualifiers.
“You have a couple people up here with different styles,” Hunter said. “You have to decide who you want dealing with businesses.”
Carter described himself as a “proud Democrat” and said his approach would be straightforward and fair-minded.
“I’m going to listen to peoplwe. That’s one thing being a judged helped me do — learn to listen,” Carter said.
The two differ on political alignment: Carter is a Democrat, and Hunter is a Republican. Carter, 69, would be the first African American mayor of Lake Charles, while Hunter, 33, would be among the youngest.
The Chamber of Southwest Louisiana and The Alliance for Positive Growth hosted the run-off luncheon at the SEED Center. Candidates were given two minutes to respond to a series of questions.
Early voting lasts through Saturday April 22, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. To view the full ballot and polling locations, visit www.geauxvote.com.