Spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser quits, says 'it was not a comfortable environment' _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Former Jefferson Parish public information officer Kriss Fortunato holds the U.S. flag on a windy opening of the newly redesigned Family Gras site across form Lakeside Mall on the Veterans Boulevard neutral ground in Metairie, La. Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.

Kriss Fairbairn Fortunato will be leaving her job as Jefferson Parish government’s public information officer to become the communications director for Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, she said Saturday.

Fortunato said she was not sure exactly when her last day with the parish or her start date on Nungesser’s staff would be, but she acknowledged they would each be “soon.”

Nungesser is set to take his oath of office along with Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards in Baton Rouge on Monday.

Fortunato submitted her resignation letter Friday.

A former news anchor for WDSU-TV, Fortunato, 52, was hired to be the parish spokeswoman after John Young was elected president of Jefferson in 2010. Young ran in the lieutenant governor primary this fall but narrowly missed qualifying for the Nov. 21 runoff election that Nungesser, the former president of Plaquemines Parish, won.

Young’s successor, former Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, was sworn in as parish president Wednesday. Yenni indicated last month that he intended to keep Fortunato in her position.

“I am so genuinely grateful for the opportunity to have served the citizens of Jefferson Parish, along with the Parish Council and John Young’s administration,” Fortunato said. “I was looking forward to working with Mike Yenni when this opportunity came along, and I am excited about taking my public service to the next level and serving the citizens of this state.”

Yenni said he would begin searching for Fortunato’s replacement on Monday.

Fortunato became well known in the New Orleans area after working for WDSU from about 1990-97 and from 2001 until several months before joining Young’s administration. Between her stints at WDSU, she handled media relations for Ochsner Hospital and the FBI’s New Orleans office.

Fortunato said she moved on from her TV career to take care of her father — who was terminally ill — and spend more time with her husband, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman Col. John Fortunato, as well as their son.

Just before signing on with Young’s administration, she worked briefly as a public information officer for the company in charge of responding to the 2010 BP oil spill on behalf of Plaquemines Parish. She said she developed a close working relationship in that role with Nungesser, who was Plaquemines’ president at the time.

As Jefferson Parish’s spokeswoman, Fortunato earned the respect of news reporters by responding promptly to requests for comment and quickly coordinating interviews with officials.

Meanwhile, both the Parish Council and Young’s administration valued her writing and video production skills. Young once remarked that Fortunato had taken the parish’s public information office from “The Flintstones” to “The Jetsons.”

Yenni said, “She’s been a great public information officer. It’s Jefferson Parish’s loss and the state’s gain.”

Fortunato said it was not lost on her that she was about to go to work for the man who captured the office that her former boss, Young, also sought.

“Politics is just a weird thing,” she said. “I’ve always tried to keep out of politics and just do my job, and I’ve been lucky to do that and maintain friendships.”