At first glance, the race for the District 3 seat on the Kenner City Council looks like a contest between two political neophytes.
But while Glenn Hayes Sr. has never run for office, he is well connected with the local political power structure, having run the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce for seven years and served on the boards of several business and civic groups.
Randall Paul Sr., on the other hand, is taking his first shot at public service.
The two Republicans are vying for the seat being vacated by Keith Reynaud, who decided not to seek another term representing the district, which encompasses the northeast corner of the city. The election is March 24.
Hayes, 72, is a lifelong banker now in semiretirement running a small health insurance company. He is backed by most of Kenner's political establishment, including Mayor Ben Zahn.
“I’m not a politician. I’m a public servant," he said. "I just want to try to improve the community.”
Paul, who is a transportation manager with Parking Management Services, said political divisions and general distrust of politicians motivated him to get into politics.
“I’ve watched things in the world and in the country for some time now,” he said. “I really don’t like the way things are going. … I feel God has called on me to take action, and I really feel like I can make a difference.”
Hayes has served on many local boards including Crimestoppers, Friends of the New Orleans Recreation Department, WRBH Radio for the blind, the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission and Friends of the United Negro College Fund.
Hayes also touts his experiences and relationships formed in banking work around the state for almost three decades. He said he handled the loan for the Research and Technology Park at the University of New Orleans and another program to finance tuition for the families of private school students.
He said education, particularly the push to introduce and expand charter schools, has been a major concern of his over the years. During his seven-year stint as president and CEO of the Jefferson Chamber, he said, he recruited James Meza to become superintendent of Jefferson Parish’s public school system.
“We were known as the education chamber when I was there,” he said, noting a newspaper dubbed him and businessman Henry Shane as the ringleaders of the school choice movement. “We now have choice in public schools in Jefferson Parish, and we didn’t before.”
While District 3 is in north Kenner, Paul said he feels south Kenner, which is poorer and more heavily African-American, does not get the attention it needs from the city in terms of infrastructure and beautification, which magnifies the racial and economic division between the two halves.
“We have what’s considered a north side and a south side,” he said. “We are one city, one Kenner, but when you talk to members of the community, they will tell you that Kenner is very much divided.
“If the City Council can work together as a team, we can rid the city of that stigma,” he said. “When one district prospers and another doesn’t, that’s not good for the city as a whole. I want the entire city of Kenner to prosper.”
Paul, who became a Republican two years ago, said he thinks he is an effective communicator who can bring people together. A lack of trust, he said, “disrupts the harmony within the community, and when harmony is disrupted in the community, it’s impossible to reach our full potential.”
Pressed for specifics, Paul said he would push to boost tax revenue by focusing on things that increase property values, like after-school programs, infrastructure and public safety.
He said he does not categorically oppose tax increases but that voters need to know exactly where the revenue is going to be spent. “I would never support blindly raising people’s taxes,” he said.
Hayes, for his part, said he would make economic development the major issue for the district and the city. He said Laketown, which has been targeted for recreational development, is a key component of the district and that the Pontchartrain Center is in need of an overhaul to make it competitive for conventions business.
He also said Kenner needs to step up its code enforcement sweeps and crack down on blighted and neglected property.
Hayes does not shy away from being seen as part of the dominant political machine. “Politics is a ‘we’ business,” he said. “When you lead a team — and I’ve led teams all over this state — you don’t have room for ‘I.’ ”
Hayes said elected officials should have conflicting ideas and that not every vote needs to be unanimous. But he said too much of the dissent on the council in recent years has been trivial and not productive.
“I think we have a chance to put together a winning team,” he said. “We don’t need people who are antagonists and aren’t looking forward for the betterment of the community.”