GONZALES — Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa narrowly won the Ascension Parish president race Saturday, inching ahead of businessman Clint Cointment with a 115-vote lead.
But Cointment said Saturday night that he would not concede the election until the official count early this week.
“I just want to make sure we do an official count before I concede,” Cointment said. “A 60-vote swing is too small for me to concede.”
He declined any further statement until the official numbers are in. Matassa could not be reached by deadline Saturday.
The final result came Saturday night after Matassa made a strong showing in early returns. But Cointment almost caught up as precinct results rolled in.
The contest pitted the consummate insider Matassa against outsider candidate Cointment, a surveyor who promised a change from a status quo that has not done enough to address the parish’s infrastructure woes.
But Matassa countered his experience in government made him the candidate who could get better results on infrastructure than his predecessors.
Cointment first caused a stir in political circles two years ago with strategically placed “Start the Conversation” campaign road signs. He constructed a solid grass-roots campaign but battled better financed opponents in the primary and runoff.
Matassa and Cointment, both Republicans, survived a five-man field last month. As they entered the runoff, they each sharpened their rhetoric as they discussed replacing outgoing, four-term Parish President Tommy Martinez.
Following three failed bids by parish government to raise taxes for roads, recreation and firefighters between 2012 and 2014, this election saw candidates promising to address fast-growing Ascension’s infrastructure worries without raising taxes.
As result, the tenor of the primary and runoff revolved around the candidates’ conservative credentials. They all touted their plans to simultaneously squeeze parish budgets and find new nontax revenue to fix the parish’s roads and other infrastructure.
Turnout in the primary was a disappointing 38 percent, and after it, Matassa and Cointment both said they would try to boost voting for the runoff.
Matassa, who has been a city councilman for five terms, is a 22-year parish employee and top administrator who says he has been an “assistant coach” to three parish presidents and learned from each. While promising to do more than previous administrations and asserting he is his own man, Matassa emphasized his experience in getting things done and knowledge of the key players in contrast to Cointment, who has never held elective office.
Matassa put out mailers touting his backing from the mayors of Ascension’s three cities and most of the Parish Council members. His television and radio ads also hammered this point.
“Kenny will always get the job done,” former parish School Board member Richard “Coach” Brown said in one TV ad.
Cointment, who had backing from the parish’s more conservative groups, including the Ascension Republican Parish Executive Committee, promised to be the change candidate who could deliver a more transparent and effective government.
Cointment has claimed Matassa, a childhood friend of Martinez, is part of the same “good old boy” network that hasn’t delivered on infrastructure but let politics rule the day at the expense of voters stuck in traffic.
One of his television ads featured Cointment talking to his daughter while they both sit in traffic somewhere in Ascension.
“Daddy, why are we going so slow?” Cointment’s daughter asked him from the passenger’s seat of a car.
The fundraising battle has also been pitched for a parish of about 118,000 people.
Throughout the campaign, Cointment ran a lower-budget campaign than his other competitors.
Still, Cointment raised $143,760 overall, including $21,800 in personal loans, through mid-November, campaign finance reports say.
Though Matassa did not formally announce his campaign until February , he tapped a far broader donor network that included many parish and Gonzales contractors and consultants and was able to out-raise Cointment by $116,444. Matassa has hauled in $260,204 through mid-November and has not loaned his campaign any personal money.
Cointment’s tough criticism of parish operations and spending led to blowback from the sitting president, Martinez, who had vowed to say out of the race. He ran ads endorsing what he claimed was “the truth” and attempted to rebut Cointment’s claims about his administration’s record. Cointment claimed Martinez broke his word and showed his hand in support of Matassa.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.