Elton Lagasse, who at 75 is running for the office of Jefferson Parish president at the Oct. 24 primary election, is tired of hearing about how old he is.
That much was clear after the third-term parish councilman hosted his campaign kickoff at The Crossing in Kenner on Wednesday night.
When he addressed the crowd at the event, Lagasse touched on themes that are commonly part of political platforms.
He vowed to maintain and improve drainage canals and pumping stations to keep floodwaters out of streets and homes in the parish during storms. He promised to dedicate funding to enforcement of building codes and the demolition of derelict structures, hoping that the elimination of blighted properties would reduce the crime rate in the parish.
And, among many other things, Lagasse said he’d find a tenant for the Avondale shipyard, which would restore the jobs that were lost when that facility closed last year.
However, no topic recurred as frequently as the downplaying of Lagasse’s age.
One of the guest speakers at Wednesday’s event was J.T. Curtis, whose 542 victories coaching the John Curtis high school football team in River Ridge are the second-most all-time. After talking about how Lagasse displayed leadership when he drove around his and Curtis’ neighborhood providing essentials such as ice in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the coach took aim at murmurs that the senior politician 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!”
As other speakers on Wednesday did, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson likened Lagasse to a seasoned sports coach who, by virtue of having seen it all, knew what it took to build a winning team.
“Experience means a lot,” Lawson said about Lagasse, a former prep sports coach who before joining the 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.”
When it was his turn at the microphone, Lagasse dedicated the end of his 14-minute speech to his age. While he joked that ex-U.S. 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 running to succeed John Young, who will not seek another term as Jefferson Parish president and instead pursue the office of lieutenant governor.