Almost immediately after Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni on Wednesday officially announced he’d run to be the next president of Jefferson Parish in the Oct. 24 primary election, Parish Councilman Ben Zahn sent a statement to local reporters expressing his support for the newly-unveiled candidate.
Under most circumstances, that might not raise too many eyebrows — politicians endorse others all the time. But Yenni’s sole rival as of Wednesday is Zahn’s fellow Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse, whom the endorsement accused of entering the president’s race “at the last minute.”
“Needless to say, I’m excited that my long-time friend, colleague, and mayor of (Jefferson Parish’s) biggest city is entering the parish president’s race,” read the statement from Zahn, who is the representative of a district that includes Kenner and who attended Yenni’s announcement at Chateau Golf & Country Club on Wednesday night. “It’s sad that another one of my colleagues decided to jump in this race at the last minute. Lots of people were disappointed.”
Zahn, who once served as a Kenner councilman for part of Yenni’s first term as mayor, added, “I committed to Mike well over a year ago and will continue to do what I can to inform the public of his qualifications and am confident he will bring his energy and coalition-building to Jefferson Parish.”
Lagasse — who announced his candidacy for the presidency via a post on Facebook the night of March 6 — on Wednesday night responded that he had no issues with Zahn’s stance.
“I hope nobody thought that because Mike was qualified I wasn’t going to run,” said Lagasse, who is in his third four-year term on the Parish Council and in his first as one of two at-large representatives on the panel. “I understand Ben has been good friends with Mike Yenni, and I understand Ben’s supporting him. That is his decision to make, and I have no problem with that.”
Lagasse continued, “Let me just say I have some long-time friends who know Mike Yenni that will support me. That’s what politics is all about. You put your name out there ..., and people support who they want. Then, at election time, the general public decides ... who they trust most.”
In a brief interview after his announcement Wednesday, the 38-year-old Yenni said he saw himself more as campaigning for the office of parish president rather than against Lagasse, 75, whom the family of the Kenner mayor has known for generations.
Lagasse said he played football for coach Joseph Yenni, Yenni’s grandfather, at Kenner High School and East Jefferson High School in the 1950s. Later, Lagasse coached Joseph Yenni’s son — Mike, the uncle of Kenner’s current mayor — at East Jefferson.
Both the late Joseph Yenni and his son, Mike (who passed away in 1995), previously were presidents of Jefferson Parish.
“It’s tough to run against a friend,” said Yenni, who is in his second term as Kenner’s mayor. “But I’m not running against him. I’m running for parish president.”