Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni was about give a speech Wednesday night at an event kicking off his campaign for president of Jefferson Parish in the Oct. 24 primary when Parish Councilman Ben Zahn sent a statement to local reporters endorsing the newly unveiled candidate.
Under most circumstances, that might not raise too many eyebrows — politicians express support for others all the time. But Yenni’s sole rival so far is Zahn’s fellow Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse, whom the endorsement statement accused of entering the president’s race “at the last minute.”
“Needless to say, I’m excited that my longtime friend, colleague and mayor of (Jefferson Parish’s) biggest city is entering the parish president’s race,” read the statement from Zahn, who represents a district that includes Kenner and who attended Yenni’s announcement at Chateau Golf & Country Club.
However, he added, “It’s sad that another one of my colleagues decided to jump in this race at the last minute. Lots of people were disappointed.”
In fact, Lagasse made his candidacy public almost two weeks before Yenni made his long-awaited announcement.
Zahn, who once served as a Kenner city councilman during part of Yenni’s first term as mayor, added, “I committed to Mike well over a year ago and will continue to do what I can to inform the public of his qualifications and am confident he will bring his energy and coalition-building to Jefferson Parish.”
Lagasse — who announced his candidacy for the presidency via a post on Facebook the night of March 6 — responded that he had no issues with Zahn’s stance.
“That is his decision to make, and I have no problem with that,” said Lagasse, who is in his third four-year term on the Parish Council and his first as one of the two at-large members. “Let me just say I have some longtime friends who know Mike Yenni that will support me.”
Yenni: ‘tough to run against a friend’
In a brief interview after his announcement Wednesday, the 38-year-old Yenni said he saw himself more as campaigning for the office of parish president rather than against Lagasse, 75, whom Yenni’s family has known for generations.
Lagasse said he played football for coach Joseph Yenni, Mike Yenni’s grandfather, at Kenner High School and East Jefferson High School in the 1950s. Later, Lagasse coached Joseph Yenni’s son — also named Mike, the uncle of Kenner’s current mayor — at East Jefferson.
Both the late Joseph Yenni and his son, Mike (who died in 1995), were former presidents of Jefferson Parish.
“It’s tough to run against a friend,” said Yenni, who is in his second term as Kenner’s mayor. “But I’m not running against him. I’m running for parish president.”
Toledano to seek seat on Tammany Council
St. Tammany Parish Council District 5 has drawn its first candidate in the wake of incumbent Marty Gould’s announcement this month that he will not seek a fourth term.
Covington attorney Rykert Toledano, who has served as a magistrate judge for Covington’s Mayor’s Court and is a former president of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, announced last week he is running for the seat in the Oct. 24 election.
Toledano, 68, moved to St. Tammany Parish in 1964 and began practicing law in 1980. He describes himself as a preservationist, pointing to his role as lead attorney in returning Covington’s “ox lots” to public ownership. His lengthy résumé of civic involvement includes conservationist causes and youth sports.
The district he hopes to represent lies mainly on the east side of U.S. 190 from Abita Springs south to Mandeville and east to Lacombe. Some portions west of the highway between Covington and Mandeville were added after redistricting in 2010.
“I look forward to meeting the residents of District 5, to listen to their concerns and desires for this district and to being their voice on the St. Tammany Parish Council, if given the honor,’’ he said in a prepared statement.
Toledano is married to Lacey Osborne Toledano, president and chief executive officer of the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce.
Gould has said he will decide “much later’’ whether to support anyone seeking his seat.
Compiled by Ramon Antonio Vargas and Sara Pagones