Buoyed by support from the city’s past two chief executives and its former top cop, Jefferson Parish Councilman Ben Zahn last week formally launched his bid to become mayor of Kenner by vowing to pressure the Esplanade Mall to “upgrade or uproot” while also promising to preserve the community’s reputation for safety.
Zahn, who served on the Kenner City Council from 2006 to 2012 and is a little more than five months into his second term as the Parish Council representative for East Bank-based District 4, indicated a few weeks ago that he intended to enter the Nov. 4 mayoral primary.
But it wasn’t until a campaign kickoff rally at Chateau Golf & Country Club on the night of June 20 that he outlined the platform which he hopes will lead voters to elect him to succeed Mike Yenni, who resigned as Kenner’s mayor early this year to become Jefferson Parish president.
The two points that spurred the most reaction from the crowd at Zahn’s event were his call to revitalize the Esplanade Mall — which he described as “a monument to mediocrity, at best” — and what he called his commitment to maintaining a “first-class, well-funded police force.”
Though the shopping center recently celebrated the openings of three new retailers, the amount of vacant store space at the Esplanade has long been a source of dissatisfaction among Kenner residents and businesspeople.
Zahn said one of his first orders of business if elected would be to meet with the 33-year-old mall’s managers, the Simon Property Group, and urge them to “reinvent” the facility.
“It has become a repository of shops that do not reflect the image of the city or the interests of the people of Kenner or its surroundings,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Zahn also pledged to emulate some of the results produced by the staffs of Ed Muniz and Yenni, Kenner’s mayors from 2006 to 2010 and 2010 until January, respectively. One in particular was what Zahn dubbed the “serenity” of Kenner, which last year had one of the lowest violent crime rates in Louisiana.
Former Kenner Police Chief Steve Caraway backed Zahn on that front, saying Kenner’s cops never had to worry about Zahn providing them with support when he was on the City Council. And Caraway, who now works for Yenni, said Zahn still checks in regularly with Police Chief Michael Glaser to make sure the department has what it requires.
“With Ben, we have someone who gets public safety,” said Caraway, who joined Yenni and Muniz as speakers at the Zahn rally.
City Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch and civic activist Al Morella are the only other declared candidates to succeed Yenni.
Although DeFrancesch is a veteran official while Morella has run unsuccessfully for public office multiple times, they have one thing in common.
They each anticipated that Zahn would receive significant support from some of the Kenner political establishment’s most recognizable names, and therefore both have cast themselves as outsiders who nonetheless want the chance to represent their fellow citizens’ interests.
Until voters elect Yenni’s successor, Kenner City Councilman Mike Sigur will be the city’s acting mayor. Sigur has said he has no interest in entering the mayoral race.
Qualifying is July 20-22.
A chill in the air at Mandeville council
Thursday’s Mandeville City Council meeting — the last regular meeting for three members whose terms expire at the end of the month — didn’t have the heat of some in the past.
In fact, there was a noticeable chill in the room, coming mainly from Mayor Donald Villere.
After the three departing council members — Carla Buchholz, Ernest Burguières and Rick Danielson — had been given a chance to speak, council President Clay Madden presented each with a plaque commemorating their service.
When Villere was asked if he wanted to say anything, his reply was terse. “No, I don’t believe. I think everything’s been said,” he said without leaving his seat.
That awkward moment was a contrast to four years ago, when Villere presented plaques to the four members who had been unseated by the current council members, according to minutes of that meeting.
During his speech, Burguières acknowledged his role in the sometimes public blow-ups.
“I don’t regret having a difference of opinion. I do regret getting into public arguments, and for that I apologize. Contrary to what some may think, I did not enjoy irritating the mayor,” Burguières said.
Danielson thanked his family, his colleagues on the council and his constituents as he urged the next council to work for the betterment of the city.
Buchholz spent most of her speech thanking people, including the mayor, his administration and the city’s employees. But she got a little choked up when it came to her family.
“My mom and dad who, they mean everything,” she said, her voice trailing off. A moment later, she mentioned her husband, Colin. “And Colin … thank you. You know, thank you,” she said, fighting emotion.
The council will convene once more as a whole, for a special meeting Monday night to discuss the proposed Port Marigny development.
The new council members will be inaugurated July 1.
Compiled by Ramon Antonio Vargas and Faimon A.Roberts III