Two days after participating in a Crimefighters of Louisiana Inc. debate, Jefferson Parish presidency candidate Elton Lagasse on Thursday told the victims advocacy group to go ahead and keep their endorsement.
Not that Crimefighters was going to give its endorsement to Parish Council member Lagasse anyway. Shortly after the debate, the group’s 50-member executive board had voted to endorse Lagasse’s opponent for the Oct. 24 primary, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, though the endorsement wasn’t going to be announced until Sept. 8, Crimefighters president Irv Magri Jr. said.
Lagasse on Thursday sent a letter to Magri saying he was “respectfully withdrawing from consideration for the endorsement” from the group because its media consultant, Greg Buisson, is the campaign manager for Yenni, who also participated in Tuesday’s debate at The Forum in Metairie.
Buisson also sat in on the group’s closed-doors executive board meeting when its members voted on whether to endorse Yenni or Lagasse. And Buisson was in charge of sending out a press release announcing the endorsement, Lagasse said.
“While I realize that your intentions and efforts showed merit, I must point out that the cards were stacked against me,” Lagasse said in his letter.
Magri denied that Buisson influenced Crimefighters’ endorsement vote. Buisson serves Crimefighters “on a pro bono basis,” and he didn’t speak at all during the private executive board meeting or even touch the ballots for the endorsement, Magri said.
Magri said Buisson was in the executive session so that he could get the information he needed for the endorsement announcement first-hand. On a previous occasion, a firm that was not Buisson’s sent out a press release that announced the group’s endorsement but had the wrong name, Magri said.
“Can you imagine that?” Magri said. “We just wanted Greg to get what he needed so he could get the announcement straight.”
In a written statement, Buisson echoed Magri.
“I have had numerous clients for political office seek the Crimefighters endorsement without success because the candidate’s vision did not completely align with the mission of the organization,” Buisson said. “In the case of the Yenni-Lagasse debate, I had no input or influence on the ... topics, structure or endorsement vote. In executive session, I (was) there to listen, ... (and) the decision by the committee is strictly an independent vote by secret ballot.”
At Tuesday’s debate, which focused on which candidate was better fit to keep Jefferson safe, Lagasse cited his decision to put law enforcement officers on campuses when he was previously superintendent of the parish’s public schools. He also noted that he implemented drug testing for the school district’s extracurricular activity participants.
Yenni, 39, noted that Kenner was recently recognized for having one of the lowest violent crime rates in Louisiana, which he attributed to his adequate funding of the city’s police force.
It became apparent that Lagasse, 75, would probably not land Crimefighters’ endorsement when members of the debate’s audience grilled him on the Parish Council’s attempts to lease out its two publicly owned hospitals to private operators.
Those attempts have been plagued by bickering among elected officials, hospital executives and consultants. An agreement to lease one of those hospitals is pending approval for less money than initially expected.
A separate agreement to lease another hospital fell apart earlier this year.
In his letter to Crimefighters, Lagasse said, “I will continue to support your organization as I always have.”
Lagasse and Yenni are vying to succeed Parish President John Young, who is running for lieutenant governor. Qualifying for the race is from Sept. 8-10.