Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni asked the public to let “mercy triumph over judgment” in his first appearance at the Parish Council since a scandal over explicit text messages engulfed his administration late last month.
His brief remarks Wednesday came after two recent public opinion polls showed an overwhelming majority of Jefferson Parish voters want him to resign and favor the idea of removing him from office through a recall petition if he won’t step aside on his own.
The statement was met with an immediate, unanimous vote of the council asking for Yenni to resign, as well as a vote of no confidence.
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As in previous statements, Yenni continued to insist Wednesday that he should be allowed to continue is his job, despite calls from nearly every elected official in the parish for him to resign over his admission that he sent "improper texts to a young man."
"Over the past few weeks, I have walked the deepest valley of despair," Yenni said. "But I know that the valley is not the place to dwell, it is the place to climb from."
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Outside of the council chamber in Gretna, about a dozen supporters wore T-shirts that read “Keep Yenni” and quoted the Bible: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice."
A woman identifying herself as Terry Green, of Marrero, said she organized the group on her own initiative by calling family and friends that she knew didn't have to work Wednesday. She said she supported Yenni's bid for parish president in 2015, but has never worked on any of his political campaigns. She also has never lived in Kenner, where Yenni spent five years as mayor.
The volunteers gathered because she asked, Green said, and were not being paid. The group has no other demonstrations planned.
"I'm not worried," Green said, when asked what her concerns were about the possibility of Yenni stepping down or being recalled. "I just know that for me, myself, as far as his title, he's been good as parish president holding that seat."
Nearby, a couple of people attempted to gather signatures for the Yenni recall petition filed last week by Metairie attorney Robert Evans III.
With his mother seated in the audience, Yenni said he believed his private life had been invaded in the wake of the scandal. Invoking his faith as a Catholic, Yenni said he had spoken with clergy and been counseled to redeem himself rather than run from the allegations, adding that strangers had reached out to him with words of support.
"I can only grow stronger as a husband, a father and a public servant from the immorality that once weakened me," Yenni said. "Now it is my job to move this parish forward, and I humbly ask you to let me do my job.”
As he spoke, audience members held up signs reading, "Take a Hike Mike."
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The controversy began when WWL-TV reported last month that Yenni was being investigated by the FBI for sending sexually explicit text messages to a 17-year-old boy he met at an event hosted by his alma mater, Jesuit High School. WWL-TV said the texts — sent when Yenni was mayor of Kenner and campaigning for the parish presidency — may have violated a federal law that bars sending obscene materials to minors.
Yenni has since acknowledged he sent inappropriate texts to a teenager, apologized, and repeatedly asked fellow elected officials as well as constituents for the chance to redeem himself.
On Wednesday, he again cast the scandal as a personal matter and referred to the teen as "a college-bound, legal adult." Under Louisiana law, 17-year-olds can be considered adults for legal purposes.
Yenni also said, "I did not meet or speak to this person at any high school function."
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Martha Carr contributed to this report.