Jefferson Parish Council candidates in Metairie district have similar goals, different priorities _lowres

Campaign portrait of Jennifer Van Vrancken

Jennifer Van Vrancken, the No. 2 to Jefferson Parish President John Young until recently, spoke with her boss about possibly working for him if his campaign for lieutenant governor succeeds in the Oct. 24 primary.

But Van Vrancken said she preferred to serve the area where she grew up with the skills she learned in a position that allowed her to work with the entire parish. So she resigned from her post May 26 and on Tuesday officially launched her run for the Jefferson Parish Council’s Metairie-based District 5 seat, which won’t have an incumbent defending it this fall.

“I just had wonderful satisfaction working for the people of Jefferson Parish,” Van Vrancken said at The Balcony Ballroom in Metairie on Tuesday in her first public remarks since stepping down from Young’s administration. “So, for me, the decision was to stay with parish government.”

If her campaign kickoff speech is any indication, Van Vrancken will rely on her familiarity with the inner-workings of parish government to distinguish herself from her two announced opponents.

She is running against Mike Thomas and John LaBruzzo to succeed Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng. Lee-Sheng is prohibited from running for the District 5 seat again because of term limits, but she is seeking one of two at-large posts on the parish council in October.

While Thomas is a former interim parish councilman and LaBruzzo fostered immense support in Metairie as a member of the state House of Representatives from 2004 to 2012, Van Vrancken said it is she who has spent the past several years collaborating with all 35 departments in Jefferson’s government.

She said she came to be responsible for 3,000 parish employees and helped preside over a $580 million budget after serving Young in three separate roles starting in 2010: chief administrative assistant for business, civic and film industry matters; deputy chief operating officer; and finally chief operating officer.

“Having such a broad knowledge of all of the things that are impacting us parish-wide — both good and bad — prepares me to serve on the council and hit the ground running,” said Van Vrancken, 44, a Tulane Law School graduate who worked as a television news reporter and anchor before joining Young’s staff.

Van Vrancken acknowledges that, as the campaign progresses, detractors may criticize her over the fact that she lived at her husband Stephen Dwyer’s house in New Orleans for a time after they got married in May 2013.

After all, throughout his tenure, Young has stressed the importance of his administrative staffers’ living in Jefferson Parish.

But Van Vrancken said she and her husband bought a plot of land in Metairie and subsequently sold his home, which was in Lakeview. As they built a home on their Metairie lot, Van Vrancken said, she and her husband rented a house about a block away and moved into it last summer, in time for her to qualify for this fall’s District 5 race.

Van Vrancken said she and her husband have since finished building their home in Metairie, and they moved into it in March.

“Everything is in order,” said Van Vrancken, who added that she was residing in River Ridge before she married her husband. “People can question that, but I think if they look into my background and my commitment to Jefferson Parish, there will be no question.”

Speaking in support of Van Vrancken at her event Tuesday was Ralph Brandt, the immediate past president of the Civic League of East Jefferson; and Jimmy Fitzmorris, Louisiana’s lieutenant governor from 1972 to 1980.

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Editor’s Notes: Van Vrancken is running for District 5 under her maiden name, but this post intially identified her by her married name. This post has been updated to correct that. Also, this post initially mistated when Van Vrancken and her husband moved into a new Metairie home they built, and that has been corrected.