DeCourt Is In Session
12/30/2016 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Freddie DeCourt Takes the Reins in New Iberia
By Scott Brazda
“Why did I want to be mayor of New Iberia? That’s a good question.”
But just because it’s a good question, doesn’t mean it’s a difficult question for Freddie DeCourt.
“First of all, it’s home… it’s the people… and I just think we have so much untapped potential.”
And helping his hometown realize that potential is why 54-year-old Freddie DeCourt is where he is: taking center stage in the city of New Iberia. It’s not exactly what his father, the late Frederick DeCourt, would have done. “Dad wasn’t a huge fan of my getting into politics, even when I was just on the city council,” recalls DeCourt. “But many of his qualities—his work ethic, his dedication, maybe even being a bit of a workaholic—I’d like to think those have been passed down to me and are maybe why I’m where I am today.”
DeCourt’s father worked 28 years for Cleco. Although, at some point in the early 1970s he found the time to open a construction company, Iberia Building Systems in 1972 and an architecture design firm in 1975. “When I was about 11, I started working for the company,” says Freddie. “I pulled a lot of nails in my time, but man, I learned a lot of lessons, too.”
Freddie DeCourt’s childhood was a good one, as his father and mother, 80-year-old Ruth Segura DeCourt, sent him to Catholic High of New Iberia where he played football, boxed a bit and got into powerlifting. Although he attended USL, McNeese State and USL again, years of working for his father established a foundation and a direction from which he never strayed.
“At a very young age, I knew this was what I wanted to do, knew that I wanted to be a part of this business.” And being able to call his own shots, to work for himself? “It fits my personality. Sure, there’s risk involved, and there are countless hours, but there’s also a lot of freedom.”
Part of that freedom, continues DeCourt, was the flexibility in his 20s to look at his city, see something that needed to be done, and then do it… even if his methods didn’t exactly follow proper channels and procedures.
“Somebody asked me about that the other day,” laughs DeCourt. “I remember we took the fountain at New Iberia City Park, which had been filled in, excavated it back out, put some plaster in it and created a little sculpture for it. It was fun because, well, we didn’t exactly ask for permission to do it.”
He and his friend Bob Wattigny tackled a number of projects from there; philanthropic projects that DeCourt refers to as “vigilante good works.” “And as it went, you just started finding more things and more opportunities to make a difference at home.”
Making a difference soon became a bit more structured, and DeCourt served two terms as mayor pro-tem in New Iberia. Morphing from business to politics, DeCourt says he began to think about his city a little differently; a mindset that he really could change things began to present itself. Problem was….
“In government, the speed of accomplishing anything slows down,” says DeCourt. “That was the biggest shock to me, just how slow the wheels turn. It teaches you ‘you gotta slow down a bit,’ and that you can’t push a rope uphill. But I sure tried!”
DeCourt says his impatience with the system during his mayor pro-tem days kept him, in retrospect, from accomplishing everything he wanted. “We did a lot that I was proud to be a part of,” he explains, “but in hindsight, had I worked more at building a coalition and developing relationships, we could have done a lot more.”
Which really means? “I’m famous for using a sledgehammer to try to drive in a tack,” he laughs. “I think if I’d been a little more tactful in some instances, I’d have gotten more things done earlier in my career. It’s all part of the learning process.”
Having that skill set, the ability to get people to buy in to what he wants to do for New Iberia, will be crucial to any success DeCourt has in the mayor’s office. But exposing residents to new ideas and perhaps new roles will be a challenge, and DeCourt knows it. “If you’re going to ask people to change, ask them to maybe have a change of attitude or at least some optimism, means you’ve got to have some relationships and some cooperation.”
But why did he even bother? Freddie DeCourt has a very successful business, owns a good bit of real estate and more importantly, has a wife and daughter who love seeing him. Why did he decide that he needed something else… OK, a really big something else on his plate? Why did DeCourt decide to run for mayor?
“You know, I get up every day and I’m blessed. I get up every day and basically do what I want—I run my business, wear what I want, do what I want, I’m very fortunate that I drive what I want. So, you’re right—I really could have just kept doing that.”
Still, had he just rested on his laurels and continued to lead the comfortable life, well, then Freddie DeCourt wouldn’t be Freddie DeCourt. He wouldn’t have been true to himself, or true to the passion he has for the place he calls home. “One, I really love this place and really think we could be so much more,” says DeCourt. “I see the potential, and I don’t want to see my friends move.”
When you’re used to doing your own thing, becoming mayor is certainly one way to get out of your comfort zone, and a great way to shake things up a bit. “I just think I really like a good challenge, it really excites me. And I’ve been like that my whole life; you tell me I can’t do something, well, that’s just more motivation for me to do it.”
His reputation is that of someone who gets things done. But a person’s reputation is based on what came before, and DeCourt knows that everything he’s done (note: past tense) is just that: in the past. “You’ve got to keep proving yourself; you can’t say, ‘Well, I accomplished this, and I did this. I can stop proving myself.’ If you’re going take it to the next level, you’ve always got to prove yourself.”
The mayor’s office, and on a grander scale, city government, will give DeCourt more than ample opportunity to keep proving himself. And if you’ve got to prove yourself, what better place to do it than in a community that bears your roots and your passion?
“Somebody’s got to jump in,” explains DeCourt. “You can’t look to the ground or look the other way. How do you have the right to complain if you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and get involved?”
Different people, however, have different levels of involvement, and the new mayor knows that. Still, his latest level of involvement means he’ll have to tighten his focus… let go a bit… allow his wife and daughter to take over the Iberia Building Systems. “To say, ‘I’m stopping what I’ve been doing for 30 years and doing this? Doing this… is not for everybody.”
He’ll now be using one set of tools; he’ll now be focusing primarily on one challenge instead of juggling a number of them. “That’s going be reward enough: to get up every day and say to myself, ‘I’m going fix this place.’”
DeCourt knows that not everything will go according to plan, and that his time as mayor won’t be completely smooth sailing. But Freddie DeCourt isn’t one to back down from a fight. Not now. Not ever.
“So for me, I like a good fight, and I think that’s good. You don’t get into this game if you’re not willing to fight for what you believe in.”