Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand talks about the 2nd degree murder indictment of Ronald Gasser in the shooting death of former NFL and John Curtis running back Joe McKnight in Harvey, La. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

Newell Normand’s surprise announcement Tuesday that he will retire as sheriff of Jefferson Parish after next month caught the region’s political establishment flat-footed. But it didn’t take long for potential successors to emerge.

The first and most obvious is Normand's chief deputy Joe Lopinto, who started his career as a patrolman and narcotics detective at the Jefferson Sheriff’s Office. He later left, became an attorney and successfully ran for the state House of Representatives. Last year, at Normand’s request, Lopinto stepped down from the House to become the department’s in-house counsel and was recently promoted to his post as chief deputy.

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Aside from his law enforcement and legal background, Lopinto said his experience heading the state House's Criminal Justice Committee makes him well-suited to succeed Normand.  

"Does (my experience) prepare me? I think the answer is yes," Lopinto said after Normand’s announcement, which he attended. "He has confidence in me, and I think I can do it."

But don’t expect a coronation. Keith Conley, Jefferson Parish’s chief administrative officer, who previously served as a Kenner city councilman and a sheriff’s deputy, and John Young, a former prosecutor and parish president, both said Tuesday that they are considering a run for sheriff.

“I will not rule it out,” said Conley, also a former city attorney of Kenner. Conley was a vice squad sergeant at the Sheriff’s Office and said his experience there and in parish government has prepared him well. “I grew up at JPSO. It’s like home to me,” he said, adding that it would be an “honor to serve the public” as sheriff.

“I'm committed to taking a good look at it,” Conley continued. “I grew up working through the ranks of JPSO. I feel I could be of value to the public in that capacity.”

Young, who chose not to run for re-election as parish president in 2015 and instead made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, cited as qualifications his years as a former prosecutor in Jefferson Parish as well as his stewardship of the parish's government.

Young said supporters contacted him and encouraged him to run following Normand's announcement, “and I am going to give it serious consideration.”

Young is now in private law practice.

Another name some observers floated Tuesday was Cynthia Lee-Sheng, an at-large parish councilwoman and daughter of Normand’s mentor and predecessor as sheriff, the late Harry Lee. But Lee-Sheng swiftly put the kibosh on that speculation.

“I think the people always talked about it because it would make a great story and people always thought that was what I had in mind,” she said. “But I asked the public to elect me at-large, and I'm only two years into that term, and I have more work to do on that front. … I'm where I want to be, and I have more work to do on this council.”

Along with holding the title of interim sheriff, Lopinto would enter any race to fill out the remainder of the term with the support of Normand, who said Tuesday that it went without saying that he would endorse the man he has groomed to be his successor.

“I beg the citizens of Jefferson Parish to give Joe every deference that they gave me and that they trust my judgment that he would be the man to lead us into the future,” said Normand, who never earned less than 88 percent of the vote in his three races for sheriff.

The Parish Council has 20 days from Normand’s last day in office to call a special election for the next scheduled election day. That would put the primary on March 24; a runoff, if necessary, would be April 28.

The council is allowed by law to call the election instead on the date of a congressional or gubernatorial election — which generally have higher turnouts — if one is being held within a year, but the next scheduled congressional election isn’t until November 2018, just outside that window.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.

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