One of the surprises of the qualifying period for the Oct. 24 primary election occurred when the former administrative assistant to Jefferson Parish At-Large Councilman Elton Lagasse signed up to run against her ex-boss and four others in the race to become the next parish president.
Robin Daldegan Christiana, 48, said her decision to enter the race was not an attempt to get back at her former boss, though she said her February resignation from his office came after she lost faith in its direction.
She said she simply thinks the public would benefit from having a parish president who is not a career politician but has intimate knowledge of parishwide issues, something she said she gained in her previous position.
“I am not there to make the next move on the (political) chessboard — I am there to do what’s best for the public,” Christiana said. “These career politicians know what they’re going to do four years from now ... and lose focus of what the job is actually about.”
Christiana said she began learning what was most important to residents of Jefferson Parish when she started working as a clerk in Lagasse’s office about a year after Hurricane Katrina. She was soon promoted to secretary.
In 2011, Barry Bordelon stepped down as Lagasse’s top aide, and the councilman again promoted Christiana. She served as one of Lagasse’s administrative assistants, with a focus on the West Bank, after he took his at-large seat in 2012.
Christiana said her various roles allowed her to consistently interact with constituents and try to act on their concerns.
“The aide actually goes to the civic meetings and meets with the public and then comes back to the office to get the final blessing from the council member,” Christiana said of her former job. “Actual hands-on? I was hands-on.”
After she quit, Lagasse wrote her a letter of recommendation to any prospective employers, calling her “a valuable employee” and “an asset for the citizens of Jefferson Parish.”
Joining Lagasse and Christiana in the race are Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, Vincent J. De Salvo Jr., Joseph Larocca and Al Morella.
Businessman running to offer a fresh face
Vincent J. De Salvo Jr., a Gretna businessman, said he entered the race for parish president to offer an alternative to the familiar faces that dominate Jefferson Parish politics.
The 63-year-old said many people he talks to at council meetings say they’re tired of voting for the same people and upset at how elected officials circumvent term limits by running for office in other districts.
“This jumping seats — it’s just ridiculous,” he said. “We put in term limits for a reason. You need to stay in your seat and go home after.”
Speaking of the two leading candidates in the president’s race, De Salvo noted Lagasse is 75 and still in politics after many years, while the 39-year-old Yenni is part of a family political dynasty.
“I get tired of looking at all the same (campaign) signs,” he said.
De Salvo’s family owned Vince’s Seafood for six decades before it closed last year. He ran for Gretna City Council twice in the 1980s.
If elected, De Salvo said, he would support coastal restoration efforts and the commercial and recreational fishing industries. He would push to find an industrial user for the former Avondale shipyard.
He also said the parish should do more to support the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, particularly in the area of community relations, to “help take this target off our policemen,” and should keep the parish’s playgrounds and recreational facilities better maintained.
Ethics panel to file suit challenging candidate
The Louisiana Ethics Administration on Friday began drawing up papers objecting to the candidacy of Scarlett Alaniz, who a day earlier signed up to challenge Jefferson Parish District 4 Councilman Ben Zahn’s re-election bid in the Oct. 24 primary.
Alaniz, a 45-year-old Republican from Kenner, signed up to run despite owing $720 in fines to the ethics body, which is grounds to disqualify her, agency Director Kathleen Allen said.
The next step is for the agency to file suit against Alaniz’s candidacy in the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna. If Alaniz is disqualified, Zahn would win a second four-year term unopposed.
Alaniz can appeal any ruling unfavorable to her. She didn’t return a message seeking comment Friday.
Once the liaison to the Hispanic community in former Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano’s administration, Alaniz has twice run unsuccessfully for a seat on the Kenner City Council. Last year, she finished third in a three-candidate field for the at-large Division B seat, taking 8 percent of the vote. Keith Conley ultimately won.
In the lead-up to that race, Alaniz filed two campaign finance disclosure reports late. She was fined $420 for one of the late filings and $300 for the other. She hasn’t paid either fine, records show.
When Alaniz signed up to challenge Zahn, she swore in an affidavit that she did “not owe any outstanding fines, fees or penalties” to the Ethics Administration. Candidates can be disqualified for providing affidavits that contain incorrect information when they sign up to run.
Union opposed Roberts then, backs him now
The union for employees of Jefferson Parish’s East Bank Consolidated Fire Department is backing At-Large Division A Parish Councilman Chris Roberts’ bid for re-election.
Robert Burkett, president of the Jefferson Parish Firefighters Association of Louisiana Local 1374, informed Roberts of the union’s support in a letter dated Sept. 1.
The East Bank Consolidated Fire Department protects Metairie and other nearby unincorporated areas of the parish. The union for its employees did not support Roberts when he won his current seat four years ago.
Roberts, a Republican, has been an at-large Parish Council member since 2011, when he defeated the candidate Local 1374 endorsed: Harahan City Councilman Tim Baudier.
Challenging Roberts in the Oct. 24 primary will be former Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi, a Republican, and Jimmy Lawson, a Democrat. Both have served previously on the Parish Council.
Compiled by staff writers Ramon Antonio Vargas and Chad Calder