• 55°

Mayoral candidate Lewis cites long service on council

By Ken Stickney

ken.stickney@panews.com

Former Port Arthur City Councilmember Willie “Bae” Lewis on Thursday offered voters a lengthy, detailed platform for mayor on The Port Arthur News’ livestreamed newsmaker show.

Lewis was the fourth of five candidates to visit the newspaper. Incumbent Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman, the fifth and final candidate, will appear live at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Lewis, a Louisiana native, graduated a Port Arthur College training program in preparation for a 45-year career launched at Gulf refinery. The married father of three children has some 25 years experience as a councilmember, much of that time spent representing the downtown area.

Lewis said he has supported changes in local government structure that encouraged new representation in Port Arthur, but saw no irony in the fact that he himself wants to return to the City Council after long service.

He said his experience would benefit the city, and said inexperience in leadership caused the city to lose much of its heavy equipment during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. The city had failed to distribute its hurricane plan, he said, which left some $24 million in equipment in harm’s way as floodwaters rose. That’s a charge he leveled often during his recent time on the council.

He said his participation in a lawsuit against Port Arthur government in 1977 helped the city discard citywide voting in favor of voting by districts, which enabled black people in Port Arthur to not only seek but also win places on the City Council.

Among things he said he would promote:

  • Improve the city’s bond rating and seek bonds to generate more money for the street repair program.
  • Use tax abatements to encourage corporate offices, including those of oil companies, to locate downtown.
  • Encourage more participation across Port Arthur’s demographic groups in city government, both in voting and in seeking elected positions. Right now, the city is about 40 percent African American but the City Council is 100 percent African American.
  • Seek General Land Office assistance in funding a waterfront park on Pleasure Island, in furthering development on the 18-mile, manmade asset. “GLO has a pile of money for coastal preservation,” he said, and GLO representatives have expressed encouragement for his park plan there.

He said voters should support him because of his experience. Asked if any of the people he’d served with — mayors or councilmembers — had influenced his leadership style, he said he has always lent advice and example to others, not sought it from those he served with.

“They always learned from me,” he said. “They came to me for advice.”

He also said he’d be best among the five candidates to lead orderly, efficient City Council meetings, with which the mayor is charged. He said spirited meetings in which he’d played a role over the years reflected how he assertively represented his constituents.

Lewis said he’d continue the city’s efforts to serve Sabine Pass, which has suffered because of a beleaguered drainage system and badly damaged roads. He said Hani Tohme, director of city services, has initiated an aggressive plan to remedy Sabine Pass problems, which he said he would support and accelerate.

He said he’s been campaigning door to door since January, and expects to draw a large turnout at the polls May 4.

“We’re going to win without a runoff,” he said.