Roughly halfway through a 180-day window to force a recall election against Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, organizers say they have collected about half the signatures they will need to be successful.
The pace suggests getting the recall on the ballot will be difficult, given that the campaign has likely already reached the lowest-hanging fruit — people most appalled by Yenni's admission that he exchanged inappropriate texts with a teenager.
But organizers remain optimistic, saying that with the holiday lull behind them and a door-to-door campaign underway, they expect to recapture the momentum they need.
“The tempo is back up to where it was during the election period” before Nov. 8, said Mikey Bowler, who runs the day-to-day operations for the Recall Yenni drive.
Bowler said the effort has between 40,000 and 50,000 of the roughly 90,000 signatures — one third of Jefferson's 270,000 registered voters — it will need to force a recall election, a range he admits doesn’t exactly pin things down.
But he said that uncertainty will change in the coming weeks. The campaign has built a database of all registered voters, and volunteers are loading the signatures into it, providing for a more accurate count.
“For a while we were counting everything by hand, and by the time you counted them, another pile got dumped on top,” he said. “It just got to the point where the hand counts were unreliable.”
Campaign workers began knocking on doors about two weeks ago, Bowler said, initially hitting hundreds of homes in the western portion of East Jefferson, particularly around West Esplanade Avenue and Power Boulevard.
Workers also have put out signs along those corridors to pave the way for an effective door-to-door effort.
“We really want that logo out there,” he said. “It’s been a few months since everyone’s been used to seeing the image.”
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni sat in his chair at the Parish Council meeting Wednesd…
He said the campaign also plans to soon begin mailing signature forms to registered voters, who can sign along with a witness and mail back the form to be turned in to the state.
Bowler said some end-of-the-year down time was unavoidable. Organizers didn’t want to press volunteers into service over the holiday season, and he noted a drop-off in media coverage following the heady days that followed the first explosive news of the allegations against Yenni and the start of the recall drive.
With the deadline for gathering the signatures just three months away, Bowler acknowledged the campaign could face some skepticism, but he said volunteers’ experience so far knocking on doors suggests many voters support the effort.
“I don’t see the interest subsiding,” he said. “I think it’s just taking time to get to it.”
Bowler noted an Advocate/WWL-TV poll commissioned in October that found 20 percent of voters would “probably” but not “definitely” sign a recall petition. (The poll found nearly half would "definitely" sign.) He said those results are backed up by the door-knocking campaign, which has found about one-fifth of voters are willing to sign the petition but don’t seem fervent about it.
“It seems like we’re seeing 20 percent of the people kind of have a ‘Sure, why not?’ attitude about it,” he said. This slice of lukewarm supporters, he speculated, might not bother to come out to the dozen or so pop-up locations Recall Yenni has throughout the parish but will sign if a volunteer comes to their door.
Other people, he said, will “grab the clipboard out of your hands.”
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni could be in real danger of being removed from office b…
Bowler said the campaign is shooting for 102,000 signatures by the April deadline to account for any signatures that can’t be verified as those of registered voters, but that goal could be adjusted downward if the data-entry process shows nearly all of the signatures gathered are valid.
Bowler said the recall campaign has about 35 volunteers, 15 of whom are capable of specialized work, such as data entry, while the rest work the pop-up locations, put up signs and knock on doors.
Yenni's political troubles began in late September, when WWL-TV reported that he had sent sexually explicit texts to a 17-year-old youth while Yenni was mayor of Kenner and campaigning for job he now holds.
The station said the young man claimed Yenni, who is married, went to the mall where the youth worked, bought him designer underwear and kissed him in a men’s room. He also sought to set up a tryst, according to the station, which reviewed the texts.
The FBI said it was looking into the texts, but Yenni said he has never been contacted by the bureau. Yenni has denied kissing the boy, though he has admitted to sending him “improper” texts.
The youth, now 19, has since identified himself as Alex Daigle, who was graduating from Jesuit High School at the time he was corresponding with Yenni. He is now in college.
The sexting scandal set off a firestorm of criticism, with nearly all of the parish's elected officials calling on Yenni to resign. But within days, it became evident he planned to dig in and try to ride out the storm, leading to the recall effort.
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni has released a statement on the recall petition filed against him Wednesday morning.
In it, he promised to respect the result, but reiterated his contention that the sexting allegations against him are a personal matter and restating that he is still capable of doing his job.
Political consultants said from the beginning that the campaign has its work cut out for it. Recalls are, by design, difficult to achieve, and they require organization, money and perseverance, not to mention intense and pervasive popular support.
Yenni, meanwhile, continues to work as he vowed he would, going to his office and attending council meetings while being more selective about more ceremonial appearances. He stayed out of the public relations offensive for millage and sales tax renewals late last year, handing those duties to his top aide, Keith Conley. The renewals passed.
The furor has died down somewhat at Parish Council meetings, though Yenni still catches flak from some constituents who remind him of the scandal during public comment periods.
At a meeting this month, Waggaman civic activist George Peterson stopped short of accusing Yenni of illegal behavior, claiming he feels compassion for Yenni because "several clinical psychologists" had told Peterson that "most every predator has been a victim" at some point. At an earlier meeting, he made a show of offering the parish president brochures about a mental health clinic. Yenni looked back at him expressionless.
Yenni got better treatment in the familiar environs of the Kenner country club managed by his wife, Michelle, on Jan. 19, when his successor, Ben Zahn, was sworn in as mayor of Kenner.
The round of applause Yenni received when he was introduced was the loudest given to any official in attendance, except for Zahn.
Just days earlier, on Martin Luther King Day, the Yennis publicly announced the birth of their second daughter, Madison Lucille, sister of 3-year-old Reagan. The news received nearly 140 likes on Facebook, as well as more than 50 comments in support. "Congratulations," read a typical comment. "So happy for your precious family."
The FBI has been looking into allegations that Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni sent se…
That same day, Yenni made a brief appearance at a Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force dinner at the Four Columns in Harvey. He spoke for a few minutes before an audience of several hundred, hitting on what he said was a key theme of the slain civil rights leader's legacy.
"One thing Dr. King stood for was forgiveness," he said, according to a recording of the speech obtained by The New Orleans Advocate. "No matter how bad he was treated, he forgave. He once said, 'We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is (devoid of) the power to forgive is devoid of the power of love.' "
Yenni quoted King as saying that forgiveness is not an occasional act, but a constant attitude.
"'There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies,' " he continued. "We honor Dr. King for his stance on fighting for equality and making sure everyone has a fair chance. These are the basic rights every American should be entitled to and frankly is entitled to."
Yenni added that he takes pride in knowing King's dream is alive and well in Jefferson Parish.
He said King "knew the world wasn't perfect, but he knew he could make a difference when he stood against the evil that we are reminded of daily. ... And he just stayed the course."
Advocate reporter Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This story was changed on Monday, Jan. 23 to clarify that the recall campaign plans to mail out petitions for signature, not simply promotional materials.