With the races a little more than six months away, the political picture for the Oct. 24 elections in Jefferson Parish had to start coming into focus soon.
That’s just what began happening when a Facebook page associated with Elton Lagasse published a 23-word message Friday evening announcing that the at-large parish councilman will run for parish president this fall. He is the only announced candidate so far.
Since then, Chris Roberts, Lagasse’s fellow at-large councilman and someone who was widely considered a potential candidate for the presidency, revealed he will instead seek re-election to his current seat.
Cynthia Lee-Sheng, the councilwoman representing Metairie-based District 5, said she too is going to pursue an at-large seat this fall. Although she didn’t specify which one, it’s presumed she’ll target the one Lagasse is vacating.
There are still questions that need answers: Who will run to succeed Lee-Sheng in District 5? Who will oppose Lagasse for the presidency?
However, if the past few days have been any indication, those answers likely aren’t far off.
Many eyes now turn to Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, who has been pegged by many observers as an obvious candidate for the presidency, in part because his grandfather and uncle were past Jefferson Parish presidents. Shortly after incumbent Parish President John Young announced in August that he intended to run for lieutenant governor in the fall, Yenni told reporters that the parish presidency had always been a goal of his, though at the moment, his focus was on his job as Kenner’s mayor, he said.
On Tuesday, Greg Buisson, a political consultant for Yenni, would say only that the mayor “is considering all of his options at this point.”
Meanwhile, another name often mentioned when the conversation turns to Jefferson Parish’s upcoming elections is Jennifer Van Vrancken Dwyer, Young’s chief operating officer.
In Young’s administration, Dwyer ranks below only the parish president. Because her boss has his sights set on the lieutenant governor’s chair, many believe she might pursue the seat Lee-Sheng is leaving.
Dwyer, a former TV reporter, didn’t deny Tuesday she is interested in representing District 5. But neither did she confirm she is.
“I am focused on continuing to serve the citizens of Jefferson Parish as chief operating officer under Parish President Young,” Dwyer said in a text message. “It is an honor and a privilege.”
Those who have been less coy about their intentions all struck a common chord when explaining their decisions: It’s how they can be of most use to the people of the parish.
Lagasse said he has been awaiting an opportunity to return to the administrative side of government, and it surfaced when Young announced he would not seek another term as president.
“The administrative side ... is what I like to do,” said Lagasse, who spent nine years as the parish’s public schools superintendent. He also spent some of his 13 years on the Jefferson School Board as its president, and he was once a dean at Delgado Community College. “I’ve been there all my life,” he said of administrative work.
Lagasse, who began the year with $131,721 in his campaign finance account, said he hasn’t fully developed his platform. But he said he thinks the pressing issues include developing vast tracts of unused land on the parish’s West Bank as well as bettering the relationship between the council and the administration.
“Developing the (West Bank) land could mean more businesses and jobs in the parish and improving the tax base here,” Lagasse said. As for the council-administration relationship, he said, “We can only do this together. It’s a two-sided job.”
Roberts said he considered running for the parish presidency but ultimately decided he could most benefit the parish by remaining a legislator for another four-year term.
Roberts acknowledged he spoke with Lagasse before their respective announcements.
“Elton and I would have never run against each other,” said Roberts, who was the Jefferson Parish School Board’s president when Lagasse was the schools superintendent. “I’ve worked with Elton for a number of years, and he’ll do a good job” if he is elected parish president.
Roberts said his annual campaign finance filing is not on the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program’s website yet because of a technical issue he is in the process of resolving. He had about $20,000 at the start of the year but raised more than $50,000 at a lunch last week, he said.
Lee-Sheng, who reported she had $30,581 in her campaign account at the start of the year, said in a statement Tuesday morning, “I am seeking the council at-large seat because I am a problem-solver and have been able to bring a variety of disparate groups together to achieve solutions to the many issues we face.”
Her announcement highlighted her efforts to revitalize the Fat City area, her securing of funding for the refurbishment of the Bonnabel Canal and her role in crafting a land-use agreement for the Tolmas tract on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
Having heard where Lagasse, Lee-Sheng, Roberts and others stood, Louis Congemi — a former Kenner mayor and Jefferson Parish councilman — decided it was safe for him to verify that rumors he is attempting a comeback are true.
All that’s left for the 65-year-old Metairie resident is to figure out whether he’ll run for one of the council’s two at-large seats or for the District 5 post Lee-Sheng will vacate, he said Tuesday.
Whichever office he chases, he’ll have a robust stash of money with which to work. He began the year with $265,299 in his campaign finance account.
Congemi — Kenner’s mayor from 1996 to 2003 and later a Jefferson Parish councilman until 2012 — said he’ll decide which office to seek in the next few days.