Third-place finisher backs incumbent Jack Strain in St. Tammany sheriff’s runoff _lowres

Photo provided -- Scott Illing

A string of text messages sent among people involved in Scott Illing’s failed campaign for St. Tammany Parish sheriff is causing a stir ahead of Saturday’s runoff.

Illing said the texts, which suggested that he is supporting incumbent Jack Strain in the second round of voting as a strategic move to allow himself another shot at the job, were meant as a joke.

One of them read: “So we vote for Strain and wait for his downfall and then we’re back on? Correct?”

Illing said he didn’t respond to the texts.

But part of the thread was posted on social media by Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany over the weekend, and commenters were tying the conversation to Illing’s recent announcement that he will vote for Strain in his runoff against Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith.

Illing initially asked the Concerned Citizens group to remove the post, questioning its validity, but after conversations with the group’s president, Rick Franzo, the posting remained with Illing’s comment included.

The former candidate said Monday that he was “a little disappointed” at the online comments and the attempt to turn the texts into a political issue, especially since he is no longer in the race.

“I did not approve of the text and simply deleted it; however, it’s my opinion that it is taken far out of context and no maliciousness was ever intended,” Illing wrote.

Illing said he has never been promised anything by Strain — a response to social media comments that Strain had offered him a job.

Concerned Citizens replied on its Facebook page that it did not know whether the text was a joke when the decision was made to post it. But the group insisted that the comments shouldn’t have been made, “even in jest.”

“Our relationship with Mr. Illing has always been excellent, and to see the text feed was disheartening on the surface,” the post said.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.