Slidell council candidates square off for Saturday runoff - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Slidell council candidates square off for Saturday runoff

SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) -

One's a political powerhouse in Slidell; the other a newcomer who says it's time for new blood.

But there's also a call for voters to take a closer look at the candidates' records, with a Slidell council runoff in just five days.

He's got one of the most familiar names in Slidell politics, and Sam Caruso is now seeking a second term on the city council. But on the east side of town, the signs of a newcomer dominate the landscape.

"I felt the city needed new ideas and perspectives," said Slidell council District E runoff challenger Pete O'Connell.

In a city plagued by floods in the last two decades, flood protection is still a major issue.

"As a councilman, we need to work with the parish to get the new canals widened," said O'Connell, referring to two local canals that consistently back up.

"Solve means it's never gonna flood again, but that's not gonna happen," Caruso said. "But you can improve and improve."

The economy is also a major concern, as new shopping areas pull voters outside city limits, taking sales tax revenues with them.

"All that building on the west side," said Caruso. "All those customers used to come in the city and shop. They're not coming back.'"

"We're too dependent on retail," said O'Connell, who says it's time to do something different. "I'd like to bring in light industry into Slidell."

Caruso led O'Connell by 16 percentage points in the primary. Now both candidates are trying to get the voters to take a closer look at the other's past.

Caruso is the incumbent. He's also a former seminarian and former Slidell mayor.

"Mr. Caruso has been around a long time, he's done some good things, but we need forward thinking," said O'Connell.

But Caruso says O'Connell has a checkered past, complete with a federal conviction in 2000.

"I'm not going to say it was the crime of the century, but it was a crime," said Caruso.

Documents from the office of inspector general show that O'Connell pleaded guilty to accepting $3,250 from a Coast Guard contract while working as a federal administrator for the maritime administration.

"What I did was very insignificant, it was a misdemeanor - I made a mistake," said O'Connell.

A federal judge sentenced O'Connell to one year of probation and ordered him to pay a $2,500 fine for receiving unauthorized compensation on a government contract.

"This is past history," O'Connell said. "If they haven't made a mistake, then please feel free to throw a rock at me."

O'Connell said he was suspended on suspicion that he took a gift at the time he accepted the Coast Guard contract, and thought that he was free to engage in outside activities.

O'Connell said he was cleared in that separate investigation.

"Whatever the crime was, it was something he had to plead guilty to before a federal judge," Caruso said. "I'm sorry, but that's not unimportant."

Voters in District E will have the final say in Saturday's runoff.

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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