Daniel Becnel Jr., the brash trial lawyer who made an unsuccessful attempt to oust St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom in Saturday’s election, is apparently not ready to hang it up.
In a note to supporters on Monday, Becnel blamed his loss on national civil rights leader Al Sharpton’s involvement in the race and said his opponent ran a racially divisive campaign that would damage the parish.
“At Natalie’s victory party, the Rev. Sharpton took his picture with all concerned in LaPlace. Unbelievable,” he wrote. “This was the most racially divided contest I have ever seen, and I advised people in advance that they were trying to make it a black/white issue, which they succeeded in doing.”
A couple of days before the vote, Robottom’s campaign released a recording of a voice message that Becnel had left with one of her supporters. On it, Becnel, who is white, was heard suggesting that white turnout would be higher than expected, then saying, “We’re taking our parish back.”
Becnel insisted that Robottom was twisting his words. He said the remark was actually aimed at New Orleans political players who had gotten involved in the race, not at black residents.
Robottom, St. John’s first black parish president, called the message racist.
In any event, Becnel went on to say in his post-mortem on the election that Robottom’s victory would be a disaster for St. John.
“There will be a mass exit of our people from living in St. John since we have over 1,000 vacant houses,” he predicted.
Becnel also accused Robottom of taking part in a back-room political deal with U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.
He wrote that Richmond “worked tirelessly for Natalie Robottom” and told people he would be running for David Vitter’s seat in the U.S. Senate, while Robottom “made her intentions known that she was going to run for Congress.” He said Jackie Hotard, an at-large member of the Parish Council, got a promise of their support to replace Robottom as parish president.
“This made it impossible for me to win,” Becnel wrote, “due to the fact that they got over 3,000 additional voters, almost all of whom were black, to join on to this program.”
Robottom, who has denied that Richmond was deeply involved in her campaign, said in an email Monday night that Becnel “has proven himself to be a liar and has no evidence to support any of his accusations. ... The people have rejected the negativity and divisiveness used by his campaign and are ready to move forward. They rejected Mr. Becnel again, just as they have done in every other election he has entered.”
She concluded, “Even though Danny thought he could buy the seat, voters thought otherwise.”
In an email, Hotard said, “The allegations made by Mr. Becnel are completely false.”
It’s not clear whether the last-minute release of Becnel’s racially tinged voice message had any dramatic effect on the election’s outcome.
While Robottom took 55 percent of the vote in Saturday’s runoff — a huge jump from the 31 percent she got in the primary — election results in St. John tend to divide along racial lines.
In the primary, three of Robottom’s five challengers were black; overall, black candidates took 57 percent of the primary vote. According to state records, 55 percent of the registered voters in the parish are black.
Turnout Saturday was nearly 56 percent.
Among those who voted early, before the release of Becnel’s message, Robottom led with 53 percent.