Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato handily defeated State Sen. Danny Martiny in the race for Jefferson Parish Council District 4, according to results from the secretary of state's office.
Impastato earned 6,918 votes, or 57 percent of the more than 12,000 cast. His victory — and the margin — were a testament to his effort to reach out to voters personally, he said, noting that he or a member of his family had knocked on more than 20,000 doors during the campaign.
"That's grass roots, but I don't even want to call it that, it's people," he told WWL-TV.
The contest was closely watched by Jefferson Parish politicos because the council is now evenly divided among two factions.
Impastato's win will likely return to power the voting bloc that existed when Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn held the seat. Zahn, along with Mark Spears, Paul Johnston and Jennifer Van Vrancken, often voted together and against Cynthia Lee-Sheng, Chris Roberts and Ricky Templet. Because Impastato is allied with Zahn, it is assumed he will become the fourth vote for that faction.
Flanked by the mayor, Spears and Johnston, Impastato vowed Saturday to work across the factional lines.
"There's only one side, the Jefferson Parish side," he told WWL-TV.
Impastato touted his "Fresh Ideas" campaign, and instead of trying to gloss over his relatively young political career, he embraced it, reminding voters that he donates every penny of his council salary to charitable organizations.
While the 38-year old Impastato may be a relative newcomer, he had a crew of seasoned political operatives in his corner, notably political consultant Greg Buisson and Zahn. He combined that campaign savvy with an energetic ground game, pounding the pavement throughout the district to lure voters.
Martiny, on the other hand, focused on his years of experience in the state Legislature, his willingness to tackle hard issues like criminal justice reform and his reputation for being a bridge builder. He bragged about being chosen as a floor leader by governors of different parties and said he could help heal the divisions on the parish council.
In his commercials, Martiny trotted out an A-list of supporters, including former Sheriff Newell Normand, District Attorney Paul Connick and at-large Councilwoman Lee-Sheng, the daughter of former Sheriff Harry Lee. Martiny did legal work for both Lee and Normand for nearly four decades.
During his victory speech, Impastato joked about his opponent's long list of political supporters.
"I've got to thank the officials who supported me in this," he said. "It's a short list."
A campaign that many expected to get negative met those expectations in its last weeks. Impastato went after Martiny's record on crime, accusing him of authoring a bill that would make it possible for people convicted of violent crimes as juveniles to have a chance at parole. His campaign produced a commercial in which a man who was a victim of a kidnapping and shooting in the 1980s said Martiny had made it possible for the kidnapper to go free.
Martiny did author that bill, but it was in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and he did not take Impastato's claim lying down.
"It's a blatant lie," the 66-year old Martiny said, launching attacks on Impastato's record as a Kenner City Council member and sarcastically putting pictures of rotten bananas on his Facebook page and calling it Impastato's "fresh ideas."
He also sought to tie Impastato to Parish President Mike Yenni, whose administration was rocked last year by his admission that he had sent what he described as "improper" texts to a teenage boy. Martiny claimed that Yenni was Impastato's "mentor." An outside group amplified the message, purchasing time on a digital billboard along Interstate 10 that read "Impastato is Yenni's candidate."
Impastato denied those connections, saying that he called for Yenni to resign.
The race may offer some insight into the next major race in Jefferson Parish: the spring contest to replace Normand as sheriff. Normand has appointed Joe Lopinto as his successor, and the outcome is widely viewed as a referendum on Normand's power to influence parish politics even while out of office. Sheriff's Office spokesman John Fortunato, who recently stepped down, has also said he will run for the post.