One of the bigger surprises on the first day of qualifying for the Oct. 24 primary occurred when the former administrative assistant to Jefferson Parish At-Large Councilman Elton Lagasse signed up Tuesday to run against her ex-boss and two others in the race to become the next parish president.
Robin Daldegan Christiana, 48, said her decision to enter the race was not an attempt to get back at her former boss, though she said her February resignation from his office came after she lost faith in its direction. She said she simply thinks the public would most benefit from someone who is not a career politician but has intimate knowledge of parish-wide issues, something she gained in her previous position.
“I am not there to make the next move on the chess board — I am there to do what’s best for the public,” Christiana said Tuesday. “These career politicians know what they’re going to do four years from now ... and lose focus of what the job is actually about.”
Chrisitiana said she began learning what was most important to residents of Jefferson Parish when she began working as a clerk in Lagasse’s office about a year after Hurricane Katrina. She was soon promoted to secretary.
In 2011, long-time Jefferson Parish political player Barry Bordelon stepped down as Lagasse’s top aide, and the councilman again promoted Christiana. Christiana served as one of Lagasse’s administrative assistants, with a focus on the West Bank, after the councilman took his at-large seat in 2012.
Christiana — who worked as a clerk in the Parish Registrar of Voters office for more than two years beginning in 2004 — said her various roles allowed her to consistently interact with constituents and attempt to act on their concerns across the parish.
“The aide actually goes to the civic meetings and meets with the public and then comes back to the office to get the final blessing from the council member,” Christiana said of working with Lagasse. “Actual hands-on? I was hands on.”
Without elaborating, Christiana said she ultimately stepped down from her position because it was interfering with her personal life and she didn’t like “the direction” the office was headed in. Lagasse nonetheless wrote Christiana a letter of recommendation to any prospective employers, calling her “a valuable employee” and “an asset for the citizens of Jefferson Parish.”
As others have, Christiana said Lagasse, 75, decided to enter this fall’s parish president’s race late. He was gearing up to run for his at-large seat again when Christiana left the office, she said.
Lagasse maintains he’d long wanted to run for parish president. But there has been speculation that he opted to run for the parish president’s race when Metairie-based District 5 Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng — whose campaign chairman is Jefferson’s powerful sheriff, Newell Normand — began notifying her colleagues in the spring that she would run for Lagasse’s seat.
Whatever the case may be, Christiana said one of the best things she offers voters after signing up for the parish president’s race Tuesday is a desire to simply serve constituents — and not eventually make a play for a higher office.
“I enjoy serving the public,” said Christiana, who married Deputy Gretna Police Chief Anthony Christiana in 2013. “I enjoy serving people.”
Aside from Lagasse and Christiana, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, 39, and public meetings gadfly Al Morella, 69, signed up Tuesday to run for parish president.
Lagasse, Christiana and Yenni are all Republicans. Morella, a Kenner resident who challenged Yenni when the mayor easily won a second four-year term in 2014, listed his party as “other.”
All are vying to succeed Parish President John Young, who on Tuesday signed up to run for lieutenant governor.
Qualifying for the Oct. 24 primary concludes at 4 p.m. Thursday.