The five-man race for Ascension Parish president is heating up as the Oct. 24 election nears.

A recent Ascension Chamber of Commerce luncheon event to introduce the candidates got a bit testy when Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa aired concerns about direct mail pieces put out by one of his opponents, Ascension Parish Councilman Chris Loar.

The mailer featured an endorsement from Erica Crenshaw, secretary and treasurer for the Ascension Economic Development Corporation board. Matassa complained the mailer left the impression that AEDC, which is funded by the city and parish government, was backing Loar. AEDC officials said the group is nonpartisan.

The chamber’s “meet and greet” event is traditionally when candidates for public office get a brief opportunity to introduce themselves at a luncheon. Matassa, after introducing himself, promised not to embarrass the chamber by politicizing AEDC as he said Loar had recently done with his flier.

The sharp comment caught many at the luncheon gathering off guard.

“You could hear a pin drop in the room,” Matassa said in a later interview. He said the mailer angered him because the parish and the city not only fund AEDC but also because AEDC was formed by the parish, chamber and city as a nonpartisan, nonprofit group.

Loar, who expressed surprised by what he saw as Matassa’s deviation from protocol for the “meet and greet,” defended the endorsement from Crenshaw and said it was not intended as representing an endorsement from AEDC itself.

“Absolutely not. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. She (Crenshaw) is an unpaid volunteer,” Loar said.

For her part, Crenshaw said in an email that she saw and approved of the final ad copy for the flier. She stressed that her endorsement of Loar was as an individual and that she “was not speaking on behalf of the AEDC board.”

Schexnayder stands by background

State Rep. Clay Shexnayder, R-Gonzales, wants it known that he, in fact, graduated from high school as stated in his campaign materials despite suggestions from his opponent’s camp that he didn’t.

“We graduated in ‘88,” Schexnayder said, adding when asked, “From French Settlement High School.”

He said he did not walk the stage but does have a French Settlement High diploma.

French Settlement High Principal Lance Hutson said Thursday he could not release records relating to Schexnayder’s graduation or even confirm if such records existed without receiving a written release from Schexnayder.

Schexnayder declined to authorize their release to a reporter, saying his campaign plans to issue information related to his graduation prior to the Oct. 24 election.

Schexnayder is seeking a second term representing House District 81, which includes parts of Ascension, Livingston, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes.

Schexnayder’s sole opponent, Lester McLin, a Republican from Springfield, said he had “pretty credible information” that Schexnayder did not graduate from French Settlement High and stood by his claims Friday about Schexnayder.

“I believe he is lying about graduating from French Settlement High School,” said McLin, a 1970 graduate if Doyle High School who later took classes at LSU.

McLin said Schexnayder could settle the issue by releasing his graduation records.

Schexnayder said he’s running a positive campaign based on his record in office while his opponent is trying to mislead voters about him and distort his record.

Advocate staff writer David J. Mitchell contributed to this article.