Mike Yenni was supposed to be a generational figure.
Elected just last year as Jefferson Parish president, Yenni ran as an energetic young family man who'd focus on reinventing the aging parish so it would attract young professionals like him.
Yenni's last name surely evoked warm nostalgia among some voters for his grandfather and uncle, both of whom had held the same job. But it was the stark contrast between the then-39-year-old Kenner mayor and his opponent, 76-year-old political insider Elton Lagasse, that set the election's tone and helped him win an easy victory.
There's an upside to coming into office on the wings of hope and optimism, but there's also a big downside. Bubbles like his can easily burst.
The FBI has been looking into allegations that Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni sent se…
If comparisons to Lagasse made Yenni look fresh and youthful, the idea of him as an authority figure, a high-profile mayor approaching middle age hitting on a high school student, sending sexually explicit texts and more paints him in a considerably less wholesome light.
WWL-TV reported last month that Yenni had met the youth, then 17, at an event at Jesuit High School while he was campaigning for the parish presidency. The teen told the TV station that Yenni later met him at the mall food court where he worked, gave him some designer underwear, kissed him in the restroom and even talked of giving him a job so they could see one another. The texts Yenni sent included a proposal that the two of them and a third person have group sex.
The station reported that the FBI is investigating the situation, likely based on a law that prohibits explicit electronic communications with children under 18.
After a week of dodging reporters, other officials and the public, Yenni succumbed to pressure to say something, and issued a one-minute video that came off as a back-handed attempt to reclaim his old magic.
In Yenni's on-camera telling, he was once more the youthful politician, "still young enough to do something stupid," even if he was admittedly "old enough to know better." He apologized and admitted sending improper texts but stopped there, and then signaled his intent to speed-walk right past the ugliness and refocus on the future.
Update, 3:35 p.m., Friday: Jefferson Parish Council members Ben Zahn, Mark Spears, Jennifer …
"Now, I will work every day to prove that good people can rise from a bad decision," he said. "I want to reassure the citizens of Jefferson that I never abused or misused my powers as a public official. And I'm certainly not afraid of the future because I'm smart enough to never repeat the past."
Apparently he doesn't recognize that, regardless of whether any criminal charges come of the investigation, the revelations mean he can never play that card again.
Or maybe he does now that the parish's political establishment is abandoning him en masse.
At-large council members Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Chris Roberts called late Thursday for Yenni's resignation. They were quickly joined by the rest of the council and popular Sheriff Newell Normand, all of whom argue that the scandal, and Yenni's vague admission, can't help but distract from public business such as the upcoming effort to pass three millage renewals.
These other officials have their own politics, but they're also seasoned and sophisticated enough to get a read on the general mood before making such a bold play. If the voting public were eager to help Yenni put the incident behind him and get on with the business of governing, I'm guessing we would have heard it by now, and the council members and sheriff would have too.
Yenni, still just 40, wasn't a novice when he was first elected, but nor was he one of those politicians with a long history to fall back on, or even, apparently, a network of pals ready to give him cover. His appeal was mainly as an up-and-comer, someone with a big, bright future who'd bring all that energy to his job.
When they elected him last year, Jefferson's voters bought into the promise. That doesn't mean they signed up to take on his considerable problems, too.