The Alliance for Good Government’s Jefferson Parish chapter on Monday night endorsed Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni for the Oct. 24 parish president’s race following a candidates forum at the Harahan Senior Center.
District 1 Parish Councilman Ricky Templet and District 2 Parish Councilman Paul Johnston won endorsements over challengers in their bids for re-election. And Jennifer Van Vrancken, Parish President John Young’s former chief operating officer, landed the endorsement for the Metairie-based District 5 Parish Council race seat that doesn’t have an incumbent defending it.
Aside from Yenni, the parish president’s debate drew three of the remaining four candidates who have signed up for the race: Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse, Al Morella and Vincent De Salvo. Candidate Robin Daldegan Christiana, who used to be an aide in Lagasse’s office, was not present at the debate.
At one point of the debate, each candidate outlined one of the concepts that more or less define their run.
Morella, a fixture at Kenner City Council and Jefferson Parish Council meetings, said he would not tolerate anything even slightly resembling corruption and would preach wise use of public funds. De Salvo, too, said he’d exercise fiscal responsibility, and he spoke about the importance of partnering with constituents to identify issues in the community and resolve them.
“We can’t do it alone,” De Salvo told the audience. “We need your help.”
Lagasse said he has more experience in public office than any other candidate vying to replace Young — who is foregoing re-election to run for lieutenant governor — after almost a dozen years on the Parish Council and prior stints serving on the School Board as well as superintendent of Jefferson’s public schools.
Yenni — who at 39 is the youngest candidate in the race — spoke about the importance of attracting young families to the parish. He touted his administration’s creation of a youth advisory council in Kenner, leading to the Coconut Beach sand volleyball complex that moved to the city’s Laketown section in 2012, which the mayor said was an example of his prioritizing family-friendly activities for his community.
Before Monday, Yenni, Kenner’s mayor since 2010, had also secured endorsements from the victim advocates group Crimefighters of Louisiana Inc. as well as the Jefferson Parish Republican Executive Committee. Yenni and Lagasse split an endorsement up for grabs from the AFL-CIO labor union.
In District 1, which includes Terrytown and the eastern-most portion of West Jefferson, Templet touted the addition of 20 new crime cameras in Terrytown and, asked about blight, said he would support tougher penalties to help crack down on the repeat offenders that make up a disproportionate share of the problem.
His opponent, Scott Grindstaff, said he would take a practical approach to solving parish problems; he said coastal restoration and the potential impact of coal being delivered by rail through West Jefferson were big issues for the district. A third candidate in that race, Pat Pierson, did not participate in the debate.
In District 2, which encompasses Harahan, River Ridge, and the western-most part of West Jefferson, Johnston cited his sixteen years experience in Harahan, both as city councilman and then as mayor. He cited his decision to have the city do its own clean-up after Hurricane Katrina as an example of leadership.
Johnston’s challenger, Michael O’Brien, president of Avondale Container Yard, touted his business experience and his background in finance.
“Everything a councilman does needs to be business-minded,” he said, adding that if elected, he would serve constituents, not special interests.
In District 5, candidate Mike Thomas said he was an aide to former Parish Councilman Tom Capella when their office dealt with Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Ike, the 2010 oil spill, and the scandal that resulted in former Parish President Aaron Broussard pleading guilty to federal corruption charges in 2012.
Thomas said there was nothing he’d encounter as a council member that he wouldn’t know how to handle, and he added that he’d seen Broussard’s bad governing up close and could protect his constituents from it, especially after serving as an interim council appointee from April 2011 to January 2012.
Van Vrancken for her part told the audience that her time working for Young’s administration in the wake of the Broussard scandal made her an ideal council representative. Before resigning as Young’s chief operating officer to run for the Metairie-based District 5 seat, Van Vrancken said her job depended on providing necessary services while under the constraints of a highly-scrutinized budget.
“I’m about being in the trenches for good government daily,” Van Vrancken said.
Van Vrancken and Thomas are seeking to replace Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, who was term-limited from running for re-election in District 5 but has been elected to one of the council two at-large posts unopposed.
A second night of Alliance for Good Government Jefferson Parish political candidates’ debates is scheduled Tuesday at the Harahan Senior Center beginning at 7.
One of the debates will center around the race pitting Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts against challengers Louis Congemi — the former Kenner mayor — and Jimmy Lawson, who are each ex-Parish Council members. Other races include sheriff, clerk of court, and state House of Representatives Districts 83 and 87.
This story was changed on Sept. 22, 2015 to clarify a comment made by candidate Michael O’Brien.