Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni has always defended his legal name change as a personal way to honor his family roots.
But Yenni's decision to assume his mother's family name following his parents' divorce in the late 1990s has also carried a whiff of political ambition, given that his grandfather Joe Yenni and uncle, also named Mike, were both beloved parish presidents, a job the current Mike Yenni won last fall. So revered was Yenni's grandfather that the parish office building in Elmwood bears his name.
Whatever his reasons back then, Yenni might want to give some thought to how to honor the family's legacy now. Because his determination to keep his post, in the face of widespread calls for his departure from other politicians and a budding citizen recall drive, is about nobody but himself.
The FBI has been looking into allegations that Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni sent se…
Yenni has no prominent allies in his quest to power past revelations by WWL-TV that the FBI is looking into sexually explicit texts he'd sent to a 17-year-old student he'd met a Jesuit High School event while he was Kenner mayor, despite his own vague and narrowly constructed videotaped admission.
Yenni acknowledged sending inappropriate messages but dismissed it as a mistake he vowed to never repeat. He made no mention of other allegations from the story, that Yenni bought the teen designer underwear and floated the possibility of hiring him so that they could be close without raising suspicions. He declared the whole matter personal, assured voters that he hadn't abused his office and said he's ready to put the drama behind him and move on.
Well, it's hard to find anybody else who is.
The entire parish council has called on him to step aside, as have Sheriff Newell Normand, Assessor Tom Capella, Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer and Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich. Catholic school officials have barred Yenni from their campuses, and the parish's public schools are considering banning him as well, despite Yenni's efforts to head off such an embarrassing development by promising to voluntarily stay away. There has been no visible groundswell among constituents on his behalf.
And Wednesday, lawyer Robert Evans III, whose father Bob Evans was council chairman during the presidencies of Yenni's grandfather and uncle, upped the ante by launching a formal recall drive.
The requirements of a successful recall are daunting; the law requires signatures of a third of all registered voters, in this case more than 90,000 people, just to get a question on the ballot. But Evans' drive is already taking on the trappings of a sophisticated political campaign, complete with voter lists, volunteers, and at least $100,000 that Evans vowed to put up himself. It's certainly going to be a serious effort, one that will continue to make news throughout the 180-day window to gather signatures.
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni has released a statement on the recall petition filed against him Wednesday morning.
In it, he promised to respect the result, but reiterated his contention that the sexting allegations against him are a personal matter and restating that he is still capable of doing his job.
Yet Yenni insists he can just hunker down and do the job anyway, and in a way, that's true. There's nothing here that would keep him from performing his administrative duties, or from running a competent administration. Nor does his behavior reflect on the work of staff members who are surely polishing up their resumes about now.
But the position entails more than that. To do it well, a parish president needs relationships. He needs to be able to go out in public and talk to constituents and the press, without ducking questions, particularly as his administration is preparing to seek several key tax renewals. He needs to be widely accepted as a leader, if not a role model.
Yenni can say the matter is personal, but the personal and political are deeply intertwined. Sometimes that helps a politician, as Yenni should know from watching the power of his own adopted name. Sometimes that hurts, as he's learned during this painful stretch.
But almost always, a politician's true colors come out when he has to choose between his own agenda — personal, political, or some combination of the two — and what's best for the people he serves.