Natalie Robottom, the embattled president of St. John the Baptist Parish, coasted to a relatively easy win in her bid to land a second full term in the parish’s top job.
With all precincts counted, Robottom had 55 percent of the vote, compared with 45 percent for challenger Daniel Becnel Jr.
Robottom’s victory was a surprisingly resounding one given her tepid showing in the Oct. 24 primary, when she took only 31 percent of the vote. Becnel, 71, one of five challengers, actually finished slightly ahead of Robottom, 55, in the first round of voting, pulling in 32 percent.
But the primary result may have suggested Robottom was in more danger than she actually was. African-American voters make up a small majority of St. John Parish’s electorate, and election results tend to cleave along racial lines.
Robottom is black, while Becnel is white. And though Robottom’s results in the primary were discouraging, three of her five challengers were black, and together, the African-American candidates garnered 57 percent of the primary vote — very close to what Robottom received on Saturday.
The contest was marred by a last-minute racial controversy when a recording of Becnel emerged in which he spoke of high white voter turnout and “taking our parish back.” Becnel said his words had been misconstrued, and that his comments were aimed at New Orleans political operatives who he claimed were meddling in the race.
Robottom won the job in 2010 after a special election to replace Bill Hubbard, who resigned after pleading guilty to accepting bribes from parish contractors. She was elected to a full four-year term the following year.
In the campaign, Becnel was harshly critical of Robottom’s leadership, saying among other things that she made a grave mistaking in not declaring a mandatory evacuation for 2012’s Hurricane Isaac.
Robottom has said forecasts did not accurate predict Isaac’s severity. She also has pointed to progress achieved during her tenure, including new drainage pumps and a progress toward a federal levee system that would protect the parish from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.