Renewing pledges to make the city more inviting to residents, visitors and businesses, Ben Zahn took the oath of office Thursday night to become the 24th mayor of Kenner.
He was sworn in hours after resigning from a Jefferson Parish Council seat he had held for five years.
Zahn's rise to the mayoral seat came at the expense of nearly half the City Council members with whom he will be working. Three of the seven members also sought the post but lost in the November primary or December runoff.
Zahn will serve the remainder of a term expiring in 2018 that was left vacant when Mike Yenni stepped down as mayor early last year to become Jefferson Parish president, months before Yenni plunged his administration into scandal over admissions that he sent improper text messages to a then-teenage boy in 2015.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Ben Zahn will be the next mayor of Kenner after easily defeating…
Councilman Mike Sigur had been serving as the acting mayor of Louisiana's sixth-largest municipality.
Zahn said Thursday he has had productive discussions with all seven City Council members, including his defeated mayoral rivals, Gregory Carroll, Maria DeFrancesch and Keith Reynaud. He said he and the council agree that "the only thing that matters now is to move forward with the future of Kenner."
Also Thursday, Zahn named the two aides on whom he will be leaning the most: Deborah Cunningham Foshee and Kriss Fairbairn Fortunato, former parish government officials whom Zahn got to know while on the Parish Council.
Zahn said Foshee will be his chief administrative officer. She served previously as Jefferson Parish's top legal adviser and then worked as a New Orleans-based member of state Attorney General Jeff Landry's staff.
Fortunato will be the deputy CAO. A former TV reporter, she later handled communications for the FBI's New Orleans field office and then Jefferson Parish government before working briefly for Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
Zahn said Foshee and Fortunato would be central to one of his campaign promises: to use relationships he developed while representing Parish Council District 4 to help bring more resources from all government tiers to Kenner.
"They bring knowledge from three levels ... back here — parish, state and federal," said Zahn, who owns a local decorating business. "I think Kenner will benefit from that."
His oath of office — administered at Chateau Country Club by Lawrence Chehardy, the former longtime parish assessor who has sworn Zahn into each elected office he has held — marked the return to a municipal government he first joined in 2006.
That's when Zahn was first elected to a seat on the Kenner City Council, a post he held for about six years before moving to the Parish Council in 2012.
One accomplishment cited by Zahn from his time on the Parish Council was his push for refurbishments to Lafreniere Park, which draws national musical acts and as many as 25,000 spectators for its Uncle Sam Jam on July 4th weekend.
During his campaign, he said he wants to accelerate improvements to Williams Boulevard and other city corridors to beautify them and reduce traffic congestion, making them more pleasant places to live and do business. He also endorsed efforts to build upscale waterfront living options, boutique shops and entertainment venues in Kenner's Laketown district, along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
He vowed to push the City Council to utilize local "planned use development" laws to ensure that the Esplanade Mall — a vital sales tax revenue producer for Kenner — is maintained in a way that satisfies the community and attracts shoppers. That looms as even more urgent following recent news that one of the mall's anchor stores, Macy's, will close this spring.
DeFrancesch said she would have no problem collaborating with the new mayor because residents' needs are all that matter now.