It's way too soon to say whether John Fortunato, the longtime Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office spokesman and retired colonel, will become the parish's next elected sheriff.
But one thing Fortunato said during his formal campaign kickoff last week rang true. Fortunato, who is challenging Joseph Lopinto, the hand-picked successor of his former boss Newell Normand, said he believes in elections, not coronations.
That's the obvious tack for him to take given the circumstances. Still, given some of the election results from around the region last weekend, there's reason to believe that many voters feel that way too.
The outcome of the biggest election on Saturday's ballot in Jefferson Parish, the special parish council race between Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato and state Sen. Danny Martiny, isn't likely to give anyone confidence in the power of endorsements.
Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato handily defeated State Sen. Danny Martiny in the …
Martiny had Normand's strong backing, and he wanted everyone to know it. Before Normand resigned to become a radio talk-show host on WWL — and while still in uniform — Normand taped a television testimonial on Martiny's behalf that played widely right after Labor Day. Later ads featured Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng and District Attorney Paul Connick speaking on Martiny's behalf.
All three are popular figures in the parish with much higher profiles than Martiny. Yet none of them were able to sufficiently counter other factors working in Impastato's favor and push their candidate over the finish line, or even close to it. In the end, Impastato trounced Martiny, 57 percent to 43 percent.
The results of the mayoral primary in New Orleans followed a similar pattern.
Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet had the bulk of the high-profile endorsements, and two better-known politicians, in particular, went to bat for her very publicly. Yet Charbonnet, who finished nine points behind her runoff opponent, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, didn't dominate the voters most likely to respond to either of them.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond is known across the region, but his political base is in New Orleans East, the area that once sent him to the Louisiana Legislature. Yet Cantrell, who owned her own home base Uptown, finished first in quite a few precincts there.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro would be most popular among a different demographic, tough-on-crime white voters, and he too loudly touted Charbonnet's candidacy. Yet Charbonnet finished third among white voters, according to a precinct-level analysis by University of New Orleans political scientist Ed Chervenak, behind both Cantrell and third-place finisher Michael Bagneris, the former Civil District Court judge.
And Cannizzaro's presence at Charbonnet's side, where he was on primary night, is definitely double-edged.
The primary for New Orleans mayor is two months from now.
A dental appointment brought me to Jefferson Parish Monday, two days after voters went to th…
While the district attorney is admired among some of her targeted voters, he could be a turnoff to others. A recent poll for the New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV gave Cannizzaro an approval rating of just 46 percent, well below marks for other major city politicians (including Richmond). The poll was taken after news surfaced that Cannizzaro's office had issued fake subpoenas to pressure witnesses to testify, and jailed some reluctant witnesses, but before the explosive lawsuit filed last week detailing some horrific specific allegations. If Charbonnet continues to embrace Cannizzaro, she's going to have to answer for his actions.
This pattern doesn't necessarily predict the shape of the upcoming Jefferson Parish Sheriff's race, which isn't until March. Fortunato starts off with widespread name recognition, if only due to his many years in front of the cameras speaking for Normand and, before him, Harry Lee. A recent automated University of New Orleans poll gave him a 44-19 percent advantage, with 37 percent undecided.
Lopinto, a respected legislator with a specialty in criminal justice issues until he resigned to join the sheriff's office last year, hasn't had much time to make his mark, either as Normand's top deputy — a post he held for about six weeks — or as his interim replacement. In terms of personality, he's considerably more low-key than Fortunato.
Normand has already talked about why he thinks Lopinto 's law enforcement and legal background makes him a good fit for the job, and downplayed Fortunato's qualifications and leadership in the office's core operations. His word may well carry plenty of weight.
But Fortunato's got a point. Voters are going to want to make the final decision for themselves. They usually do.
Email Stephanie Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org.