Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni didn’t hesitate to admit it Monday: There doesn’t seem to be much for him to be apprehensive about as he prepares to take over as president of Jefferson Parish in a couple of months.
The parish’s coffers are well-lined. Its budget this year went up $25 million from what it was in 2014, and the government basically had no new costs.
The parish then got another $34.7 million to work with over the summer from the settlement of a lawsuit it filed against BP over lost sales tax revenue following the company’s 2010 oil spill.
Further, it appears that the seven-member Parish Council with which Yenni and his administration will be working should be a relatively friendly one.
One of the four opponents Yenni defeated in Saturday’s election was at-large Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse, the lone departing council member — who along with Ricky Templet and at-large Councilman Chris Roberts has formed a tight-knit alliance on the panel.
Templet and Roberts both backed Lagasse against Yenni in the race to succeed outgoing President John Young, who came up short in his bid for lieutenant governor.
The one newly elected council member is Young’s former top aide, Jennifer Van Vrancken, who while campaigning in Metairie-based District 5 appeared to develop a rapport with Councilman Ben Zahn, among the most outspoken supporters Yenni had during the parish presidency campaign.
What’s more, the parishwide seat Lagasse is giving up won’t be filled by someone in Roberts’ camp but by outgoing District 5 Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, who has frequently differed with Roberts, Templet and Lagasse.
It remains to be seen whether Van Vrancken’s relative closeness to Zahn as well as Lee-Sheng’s new parishwide role translate into consistent support from them for Yenni’s initiatives after he takes office in January. But the political situation seems to be as promising as Yenni could reasonably hope for.
Meanwhile, other politicos in the city where Yenni has been mayor since 2010 are deciding whether they want to vie for the opportunity to succeed the 39-year-old once he moves on.
Sitting Kenner City Council members Keith Conley, Maria DeFrancesch and Keith Reynaud all confirmed they are considering running for Yenni’s seat in a special election that will be held next year after he assumes the parish presidency. All touted the knowledge of Kenner they have acquired on the council and in prior civic involvement but stopped short of announcing themselves as candidates.
One other long-rumored potential candidate also offered himself up as a possibility: Jefferson Parish Justice of the Peace Kevin Centanni.
Centanni noted Monday that in weighing his possible mayoral candidacy, he faces a problem that Conley, DeFrancesch and Reynaud don’t have to worry about. Unlike them, he would need to resign his present job to run, at least as far as he could tell Monday.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at (running for mayor),” Centanni said. “But I enjoy what I do, and it may be a deterrent having to run against people who don’t have to give up their seat.”
Kenner’s special election to replace Yenni could take place either March 5 or — more likely — at the Nov. 8, 2016, presidential election, City Attorney Michael Power said Monday. He said the city must decide soon. Qualifying for a March 5 election would have to be held Dec. 2-4, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
Until the election, whoever is the president of the seven-member Kenner City Council when Yenni resigns will serve as interim mayor. Two members are seeking that role when the vote to name current President Gregory Carroll’s successor is held in December: Vice President Mike Sigur and Councilman Dominick Impastato.
Sigur, 63, said it makes sense for him to be Yenni’s interim replacement because he is retired and could be a full-time mayor.
Impastato, 36, said his top priority would be to keep the city going in the same general direction it’s been headed until the new mayor is elected.
Once the interim mayor takes his role, the City Council’s membership would temporarily drop to six, Power said.
Yenni said he preferred not to discuss whom he’d like to see succeed him in the interim and on a permanent basis.
He did make it a point to praise Young for leaving the parish President’s Office in calmer waters than when he assumed his position five years ago.
Young, then a Parish Council member, won a partial term as president in a special election in 2010 in the wake of a federal corruption scandal that sent his predecessor, Aaron Broussard, to federal prison.
Young won his current term unopposed in 2011 but declined to pursue re-election this year to run for lieutenant governor.
He said he did not regret his decision despite narrowly missing a spot in the Nov. 21 runoff. He said he has no firm plans about what he’ll do next.
Young said he’ll always be proud of securing the creation of a parish Inspector General’s Office — meant to restore the public’s trust in parish government — following the Broussard scandal.
He also said his work isn’t done, explaining that his administration might soon announce that a major builder with “a proven track record” is looking at developing 1,800 acres of the so-called Fairfield tract, which lies at the West Bank end of the Huey P. Long Bridge. He declined to elaborate Monday.
Young added that he’d like to see the Parish Council vote to put the BP settlement money in escrow before deciding on a plan to spend a large chunk of the proceeds on coastal protection and restoration efforts, but he acknowledged that might fall on the Yenni administration’s plate.
“We did everything we could,” Young said about both his parish presidency and his campaign for lieutenant governor, which took him across the state.
“I am convinced our best days are ahead of us — not because of our politicians, but because of our people,” he said.