Jefferson Parish Sheriff candidates former Col. John Fortunato, second from right, and his opponent, incumbent Sheriff Joe Lopinto, forth from left, greet members of the Westbank Business & Industry Association after a forum at the Timberlane Country Club in Gretna, La., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. The forum posed several questions to the candidates who gave answers that lead to a feisty debate.

Advocate staff photo by MAX BECHERER

Who would have guessed that the most dramatic endorsement in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's race wouldn’t be of a candidate, but by a candidate?

And who would have predicted that one of the contestants in the hard-fought, high-stakes campaign would voluntarily link himself to the most controversial politician in the parish?

Yet that's just what longtime JPSO spokesman did this week. Nearing the end of a relatively lackluster campaign, Fortunato made headlines and raised eyebrows by saying that embattled Parish President Mike Yenni was right remain in office, despite calls for him to resign following reports that he'd been involved in a sexting relationship with a teenager. During a televised WDSU debate against interim sheriff Joe Lopinto, Fortunato also went on record supporting Yenni's reelection next year.

That makes him quite the outlier among high-profile parish politicians. Some have condemned Yenni's behavior more strongly than others, but none have gone so far as to rally behind him.

Lopinto certainly didn't. He said during the debate that Yenni should have resigned, and that he would not back him should he run for reelection.

In a text message afterwards, Fortunato said that he doesn't "condone what Mike Yenni said or did, but I also believe the administration is managing the parish well."

Fortunato, Lopinto split on support of Jefferson President Mike Yenni in possible re-election bid

It's worth noting that Fortunato does share a consultant with Yenni, Greg Buisson. And if Yenni runs again — a big if — his most formidable potential challenger comes from the opposite camp. At-large Parish Council member Cynthia Lee Sheng is the daughter of the late Sheriff Harry Lee and is a close political ally of Lee's hand-picked successor, Newell Normand, who appointed Lopinto to the post. While she says she's also close to Fortunato, who spent decades with JPSO dating back to her father's tenure, Lee-Sheng has endorsed Lopinto in this race.

Still, a more seasoned politician might have turned the question to his advantage. A far better, if less attention-getting, answer would have been to say that he's not running to be a political boss and would stick to law enforcement.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.