For a race that could serve as a preview of next spring's expected dogfight for the Jefferson Parish sheriff's job, this month's Jefferson Parish Council District 4 contest between state Sen. Danny Martiny and Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato hasn't garnered much media attention, despite a lot of TV commercials for the candidates.
Still, the race doesn't lack for intensity among its participants, or among the Jefferson pols who are closely watching it for clues to how the sheriff's race may go.
When Ben Zahn won the race for Kenner mayor in December, speculation immediately turned to w…
The two candidates seem to present a clear choice for voters: the 66-year-old Martiny, a two-decades-plus veteran of the state Legislature, versus the 38-year-old Impastato, a one-term Kenner councilman. But beneath the surface, the candidates serve as the tips of factional spears as Jefferson's two major political alliances vie for control of the seven-member Parish Council.
Whoever wins will provide a decisive vote on the council, expected to ally himself either with district members Jennifer Van Vrancken, Paul Johnston and Mark Spears or with the other group, which includes at-large members Chris Roberts and Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Gretna's Ricky Templet.
Impastato would be expected to go with the former group, Martiny with the latter, despite both's vows to maintain political independence.
Ben Zahn, when he held the District 4 seat representing parts of Kenner and unincorporated Jefferson, was solidly aligned with Van Vrancken, Johnston and Spears. The interim councilman, Jack Rizzuto, has often allied himself with Roberts, Lee-Sheng and Templet.
Martiny has sought to portray himself as the veteran lawmaker, unafraid to fight for his constituents or take on tough issues. He says governors of both parties looked to him to help shepherd key bills through the legislative process in Baton Rouge. Most recently, he points to his efforts in pushing through a criminal justice reform package that proponents say will drive down Louisiana's notoriously high incarceration rate but opponents decry as soft on crime.
Martiny touted his record at a forum sponsored by the Alliance for Good Government, which later gave him its endorsement. "People come to me with tough issues because they know I can put people together," he said.
He has decried the factionalism on the council and vowed not to be a part of it. "There are problems with the council that need to be resolved, and I think I am the one to do it," he said.
Impastato calls himself an outsider who can bring "fresh ideas" to the office. Nearly three decades Martiny's junior, the fellow Rummel High, LSU and Loyola law school grad claims to have brought a new approach to government, one that is more constituent-focused.
The race is also a bitter factional fight largely driven by political heavyweights. Impastato has Greg Buisson, a controversial figure in the parish's politics, as his campaign consultant. Zahn, Parish President Mike Yenni and the three council members with whom they are aligned all used Buisson as their consultant.
In any campaign, the stakes can be almost as high for media consultants as the candidates wh…
The connection to Buisson and especially Yenni, whose administration was rocked last year by a scandal in which Yenni admitted sending what he called "inappropriate" texts to a teenage boy, is what Impastato's opponents have focused on.
Mail pieces have tied Impastato and Yenni, and a large digital billboard along I-10 flashed the message "Impastato is Yenni's candidate." At the Alliance for Good Government candidate forum, Martiny denied any association with the group behind the billboard.
Impastato has tried to distance himself from any Yenni associations. He noted that he publicly called for Yenni to resign and signed a petition for a recall election. He said the efforts to put the two of them together are desperate attempts to smear him with Yenni's tarnished reputation.
The Jefferson Parish chapter of the Alliance for Good Government threw its support Thursday …
"The more that they keep pressing that message, the better I keep polling," he said. "People know that it's irrelevant. The guilt-by-association game is just not working for them."
Martiny's opponents, in turn, have tried to tie him to sheriff-turned-radio talk-show host Newell Normand. They have accused Normand of trying to take over the Parish Council. Martiny has insisted that Normand has no role in his campaign, though his first TV ad was a 30-second spot featuring Normand.
Martiny has praised the former sheriff as an effective, honest public servant. "If he wants to say I am a Newell Normand-type official, I'll pay for the ad," Martiny said.
If elected, Martiny said he will be open to working with any members of the council, regardless of faction.
This, my friends, is what's known as a skirmish.
He added that he doesn't "have any political machine behind" his campaign.
Neither candidate had a decided advantage in funds available at the last filing date. Both had in the neighborhood of $170,000 on hand with 30 days to go. Unsurprisingly, both say their internal polls show them with the advantage, but Martiny noted that Oct. 14 is likely to be a low-turnout election in Jefferson, and the result will boil down to whichever side motivates its voters better.
Both candidates say they are going to emphasize their strengths in the final two weeks.
"My focus is showing the people what I've done and showing the people what he claims he's done and letting them decide," Martiny said.
"We're gonna pound the pavement, press every hand, knock on every door," Impastato said.