When Ben Zahn won the race for Kenner mayor in December, speculation immediately turned to who would fill his District 4 seat on the Jefferson Parish Council, and by the time Zahn put his hand on a Bible Jan. 13 to take the oath of office, two local politicians were already running for the council seat.
When qualifying closed Friday, they were the only two candidates for the Oct. 14 election in the district that includes most of Kenner and parts of Metairie.
State Sen. Danny Martiny and Kenner Councilman Dominick Impastato are both lawyers who graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School, went to LSU as undergraduates and then to Loyola for law school. Both are Republicans.
Martiny, 66, is the more established figure in local politics. He has been in the Legislature since 1994, serving in the House until 2007 and then in the Senate. He won't be eligible to run for that seat again when his term ends in 2019.
Impastato, 38, is in his first term on the Kenner City Council, where he took his seat in 2014.
Both candidates make the case their own résumé is the superior one.
"I like Dominick," Martiny said. "He doesn't have the experience I have."
Martiny also has sought to portray himself as a consensus-builder, someone who tackles thorny problems and works with people of all political stripes.
"I have a proven record of leadership and accomplishment," he said. He pointed to his efforts on behalf of criminal justice reform in the Legislature as a recent example.
Impastato, by contrast, has embraced his status as a relative newcomer to elected office.
"I am trying to bring a message of aggressive, young leadership to the council," he said. "People seem to be begging for it."
Being young doesn't mean he isn't effective, he said.
State Sen. Danny Martiny and Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato plan to run for the o…
"I quickly became a leader on (the Kenner) council," he said. "I have a lot of experience on my own."
The two also differ on the issues they say need to be tackled right away. Martiny said he wants to heal divisions on the Parish Council, saying the split based largely on friction between the east and west banks is bad for the parish.
"The parish is somewhat paralyzed," he said. "People don't like the division they see on the council."
One example of divisions on the council: The six remaining members were unable to agree on a temporary replacement for Zahn, leaving it up to Gov. John Bel Edwards to appoint businessman Jack Rizzuto to fill the vacancy.
Martiny also plans to pitch a Parish Charter amendment that would make it easier to remove a parish president or council member "for cause," he said, pointing to the text messaging scandal he argues has left Parish President Mike Yenni ineffective. A recall drive failed to garner enough signatures to force a vote on Yenni's status.
As long expected, state Sen. Danny Martiny and Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato qua…
"I think what we saw with all the turmoil around Parish President Yenni is a defect in the charter," Martiny said. He acknowledged getting the charter amendment through the council, where it would take a supermajority to put it before the voters, would be difficult, but he said he is invested in the idea.
Impastato said his biggest priority in office would be figuring out a way to help lure more young families to Jefferson Parish.
"We are not attracting those folks at the same rate" as the parish once did, he said, calling it a "major issue."
Impastato pointed to his years of coaching in the Kenner park system and the work he did getting a new skate park built in Kenner, saying that housing demand near the park had risen as a result of that work.
"It's that sort of leadership that's going to be necessary to stem the tide of young families leaving and not coming back" to Jefferson, he said.
The race also features a clash between some of the parish's political heavyweights. Sheriff Newell Normand is behind Martiny, who began giving legal advice to former Sheriff Harry Lee, Normand's political mentor, in 1980. On the other side, Zahn, the mayor of the parish's largest city, is fully behind Impastato.
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The race could get expensive. Martiny said last week that he expects it will cost each side up to $500,000 or more, and he began 2017 with more than $250,000 on hand. He said he plans a "positive" campaign but vowed to respond "with facts if I am attacked."
Impastato's war chest at the start of the year had about $60,000, but he said his fundraising this year has brought in almost $200,000. He also loaned his campaign $120,000 of his own money.
He's banking on an aggressive ground game. He said meeting with voters in person helped him defeat a better-known incumbent during his race for a Kenner council seat in 2014.
"I've hit about 5,200 doors so far," he said. "That's what we did before. That's what we'll do now."