A little more than three weeks away from the Oct. 24 primary, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni is again fighting back at accusations that he changed his last name to his grandfather’s and uncle’s — revered by many on Jefferson Parish’s political scene — to gain an electoral edge.
This time, the charge is being leveled by Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse, his main rival in the race to become the next president of Jefferson Parish, an office once held by Yenni’s grandfather and uncle before their deaths.
In 1998, after his parents divorced, the man who has been Kenner’s mayor since 2010 legally changed his name from Michael Maunoir to Michael S. Yenni.
Yenni has long maintained that he switched his name as an homage to his mother and grandmother, respectively the daughter and wife of former Kenner Mayor and Jefferson Parish President Joseph Yenni, who helped him get through the experience of seeing his parents split up.
But the first opponent Michael S. Yenni defeated to become Kenner’s mayor accused him of changing his name strictly for political purposes — not only was Yenni’s late grandfather a prominent community leader in the 1970s and 1980s, but his uncle, Michael J. Yenni Sr., was the president of Jefferson Parish from 1987 until his death in 1995.
A campaign commercial posted on Lagasse’s official YouTube channel on Wednesday ran that play again. The video not only alleged that Yenni’s name change “disrespected” the legacies of both his grandfather and uncle, it also poked fun at the 39-year-old Kenner mayor’s relative youth as well as a past dealing he had with disgraced former Parish President Aaron Broussard.
“Little Mikey Maunoir always wanted political power, so Mikey was determined to fulfill his dream, even changing his own name from Maunoir to Yenni,” said the narrator of the commercial paid for by the campaign of Lagasse, 76, an at-large member of the Parish Council. “Shame on him.”
While the narrator spoke about “little Mikey Maunoir,” the commercial shows a young boy drawing both an American flag and the elephant logo of the Republican party, to which both Yenni and Lagasse belong. It also alleges that the attorney who represented Yenni when he changed his name — Broussard — was his “good friend” and “mentor.”
Broussard pleaded guilty in 2012 to federal corruption charges and is still serving out his prison sentence.
In a separate Lagasse ad rolled out late last month, Michael J. Yenni Sr.’s widow, Susan, is shown saying “the real Mike Yenni” is her son, Michael J. Yenni Jr., who was 2 when his father died and is not involved in politics.
She added that her family was supporting Lagasse, some five years after she backed the man her late husband’s nephew defeated to become Kenner mayor.
Michael S. Yenni, who’s long called his grandfather his mentor, responded with his own commercial on Friday in which he said his name change was a personal decision that had no place being brought up in politics.
He explained, “After my parents’ painful divorce, I lived with my mother, Peggy Jo Yenni. It was a tough time, and my mother and grandmother, Lucille Yenni, were the family I knew, so I took the family name.”
He continued, “Yenni blood does run through my veins. And my achievements come from leadership — not a last name. Elton Lagasse may want to relive the past, but I’d rather plan for our future.”
Yenni’s reply to Lagasse came a day after five local businessmen released a poll they commissioned that found the Kenner mayor had a double-digit lead among likely voters who are decided over the parish councilman and three other candidates vying to succeed lieutenant governor hopeful John Young as Jefferson president.
While the poll concluded almost half of likely voters in the parish president’s race are undecided, it found that those who hadn’t made up their minds are also leaning toward supporting Yenni over Lagasse, Al Morella, Robin Daldegan Christiana and Vincent De Salvo.
Morella, Christiana and De Salvo have not previously held a major political office and were far behind both Yenni and Lagasse in the poll.
If a runoff in the parish president’s race is necessary, it will be on Nov. 21.