Elton Lagasse, who at 75 is running for Jefferson Parish president in the Oct. 24 primary, is tired of hearing about how old he is.
That much was clear as the third-term parish councilman hosted his campaign kickoff rally at The Crossing in Kenner on Wednesday night.
In addressing the crowd, Lagasse touched on themes that are common parts of political platforms.
He vowed to maintain and improve the parish’s drainage canals and pumping stations to keep floodwaters out of streets and homes during storms. He promised money to enforce building codes and demolish derelict structures, with the idea that eliminating blighted properties would help reduce the crime rate in the parish.
Lagasse also said he’d find a tenant for the former site of Avondale Shipyard, which would restore some of the jobs lost when that facility closed last year.
However, no topic came up as frequently at Wednesday’s event as the downplaying of Lagasse’s age.
One of the speakers was J.T. Curtis, whose 542 victories coaching the John Curtis Christian High School football team in River Ridge are the second-most for a U.S. high school football coach. After talking about how Lagasse drove around his and Curtis’ neighborhood providing essentials such as ice in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the coach took aim at murmurs that Lagasse couldn’t realistically serve more than one four-year term, given his age.
“If you think he is through, hang on. The show is just about to start!” Curtis — a 26-time state champion coach — said about Lagasse, who is almost twice as old as his only announced opponent for the presidency, 38-year-old Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni. “The future of Jefferson Parish is going to move in a direction that you have never seen before because this man cares about people — not politics!”
Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson likened Lagasse to a seasoned sports coach who, by virtue of having seen it all, knows what it takes to build a winning team.
“Experience means a lot,” Lawson said about Lagasse, a former prep sports coach who before joining the Parish Council in 2004 was superintendent of the Jefferson Parish Public School System from 1994 to 2003. “What we need now in Jefferson Parish is not a cheerleader — but a coach.”
Lagasse himself ended his 14-minute speech by referring to his age. After joking that former President Thomas Jefferson — before dying in 1826 — told him that a man should be judged solely on his works and not his age, Lagasse remarked in a more serious tone, “I was always taught that wisdom comes with experience.”
Pointing at his head, he added, “Age is irrelevant — it’s what you have here.”
Lagasse and Yenni are hoping to succeed John Young, who decided not to seek another term as Jefferson Parish president. He is running for lieutenant governor instead.
Street name changes may not be over
A group of congregations and community members set off a political firestorm on the New Orleans City Council on Thursday when they pushed for portions of Carondelet and La Salle streets to be renamed in honor of two recently deceased pastors.
They also may have started a round of efforts to get the names of other notable former residents — be they activists, clergy, entertainers or just examples of the city’s quirky appeal — enshrined on city street signs.
Council President Stacy Head, warning against the two name changes, read off a list of other deceased people whose advocates are pushing for recognition.
It’s a varied list that includes civil rights activist the Rev. Simmie Lee Harvey, Archbishop Philip Hannan, U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs, Mardi Gras Indian Chief Tootie Montana and sportscaster Buddy Diliberto.
One resident has suggested the Uptown parade route along St. Charles Avenue should be named for Dorothy Mae Taylor, who pushed for the desegregation of Carnival krewes while on the City Council, Head said. Another pitched some kind of recognition for Ruthie the Duck Lady, known for roaming the French Quarter in unusual get-ups with her pet ducks.
“It’s hard for us to say in a snapshot, in an instant, which of these amazing individuals is most important, which streets are appropriate for a name change,” Head said.
Despite complaints that the changes would violate several city policies on street names, the council voted 4-3 to rename sections of Carondelet and La Salle for the Rev. Robert Blakes Sr. and the Rev. John Raphael.
Compiled by Ramon Antonio Vargas and Jeff Adelson