Johnny Pecoraro is not new to Hammond. The 67-year-old interior designer and florist has lived in the city for as long as he’s been alive, and after years of biding his time, he’s throwing his hat in the ring for mayor.
The Nov. 6 election is several months away, but Pecoraro announced his candidacy on Facebook earlier this week. He said his campaign team of 35 supporters had been hard at work planning events and designing flyers, billboards and advertisements to run in the coming months.
The Hammond native takes on incumbent mayor Pete Panepinto.
“I’m friends with Pete,” Pecoraro said. “But in my mind, I’m not running against him. I’m running for Hammond, not against the current mayor.
Pecoraro said his view of Hammond was “totally different” from that of Panepinto.
“I want to use my experience running a business here to attract more retail stores to our vacant buildings,” Pecoraro said. “I want a civic center and a historic hotel downtown and the first Hammond museum. Not only do I want these attractions, but I can achieve them.
Part of his platform is to improve infrastructure in Hammond and the parish districts, particularly with regard to sewage issues.
“We can add as many basketball courts and attractions as we want, but if the people using them go home to a toilet that doesn’t flush, what’s the point?” said Pecoraro. “It’s a simple request that we can flush our toilets.”
While running as the Democratic candidate, Pecoraro said he places little importance on partisan affiliations.
“I’m not showing up for a party,” he said. “The sewers don’t tell a Democrat from a Republican, and neither do I.”
Pecoraro intends to solve parking problems in downtown Hammond and bring tax revenue to the city by inviting popular retail stores, water parks and amusement parks to the table and by bringing these attractions to Hammond.
“None of these upgrades or additions will cost taxpayers a dime,” he said.
He said he was working with private investors who will finance these projects to “bring Hammond into the 21st century”.
“The look of the city will remain the same, so I don’t want people to be afraid of change with me in power,” he said.
Pecoraro has owned a business in Hammond for 40 years, but before that he worked downtown while attending Southeastern Louisiana University. He said his life has always been devoted to beautification, whether through his interior design or florist businesses.
“I’ve been to towns with an emphasis on beautification, like Fairhope, Alabama,” he said. “I use these cities as models for what Hammond might be once I’m in power.”
Part of his plan is to hold a festival in Hammond, as many towns and villages around Tangipahoa Parish host festivals that draw people from all over the country.
“It’s something to question when all these cities around us have festivals blooming in the spring, but we don’t have any,” he said.
He has developed committees for each of his ideas, staffed with volunteers who will continue to work for Pecoraro if he is elected in November.
He said he had been involved in politics for years and had supported and raised funds for several Tangipahoa parish judges, including the late Grace Gasaway, who died nearly a year ago.
“Grace encouraged me to run,” Pecoraro said. “Now I finally do it. My ancestors have been here for 220 years, and since the day my great-grandfather got off the train at Hammond, my heart and soul have been planted here.
His campaign slogan is “Taking Hammond to the next level” because he said he felt he owes it to his ancestors to make Hammond a better place, a town people want to stay in.
“We need to bring family values back, not just to reduce crime and education rates, but to keep families in our area,” Pecoraro said.
Her vision for a Hammond Museum focuses on the women who built the city.
“I want people to know about the great women who made this city what it is,” he said. “They had the help of the men behind them, but the women are the ones who really need to be celebrated.”
Pecoraro’s stance on police department and Hammond City Council issues revolves around a lack of transparency and an inability to compromise across differences.
“For the past four years, we have been locked in hatred between the police department and the city council,” he said. “I’m not about hate, I lead with love for Hammond. I’m going to break the deadlock and build relationships with advisors one on one, just like Robby Miller did.
As director of the Cops’ Ball, an annual event that has been going on for nearly three decades, Pecoraro said Hammond’s police officers were underpaid and he wanted to see their salaries increased by 20%.
After speaking to officers who left Hammond to work in St. Tammany Parish, where officers are better paid, Pecoraro said Hammond operated like a boot camp.
“We are a training ground for police officers,” he said. “And if we don’t raise salaries, we will remain a training ground. It’s not just morale that’s hurting the department, it’s a matter of pay.
Pecoraro said his team is “hitting the pavement really hard” over the next three weeks to set up his campaign website, attend some of the 25 meet and greets he has scheduled, and finalize plans for its first fundraiser on April 11 at Café 113. in Hammond.
“I’m tired of kicking the box on the road,” Pecoraro said. “It’s my time. It’s my turn. It’s Hammond’s turn.