The two Belle Chasse Republicans vying to succeed Billy Nungesser as president of Plaquemines Parish in Saturday’s runoff each claim the mantle of change, but they don’t see eye-to-eye on what voters want done differently.
Nungesser could not run again because of term limits.
Both Jerry Hodnett and Amos Cormier Jr. are former Parish Council members who have pledged to fight for the lower insurance rates and coastal restoration and levee projects they say the parish needs, and both say they will push to speed up the planned $111 million replacement of the outdated and inadequate Belle Chasse bridge and tunnel.
But Hodnett, who finished first in the Nov. 4 primary with 33 percent of the vote to Cormier’s 24 percent, said residents are looking for someone who can bring the parish’s legislative and executive branches together and get more done.
“The public wants the council and the parish president to work together, to move our parish forward. They’re tired of the bickering that’s been going on since the beginning of this form of government,” he said, referring to the parish’s 1987 conversion from a commission council to a president-and-council model.
Cormier, on the other hand, is claiming the mantle of the outsider and seeks to paint Hodnett as “the machine candidate” — the choice of the establishment.
“We feel like we’re a grass-roots campaign, the camp that is representing the individual in Plaquemines Parish,” he said. “We’re not with the machine.”
Cormier, 69, said Hodnett is backed by people and interests “outside the parish,” a shorthand often invoked to suggest that locals won’t reap the benefits of any strides the parish makes, though he would not name any names or entities or provide any specifics.
“I don’t know what he’s talking about there,” Hodnett said. “He’s running a completely negative campaign based on his imagination.”
Hodnett, 71, said the only elected official publicly supporting him is outgoing Councilman Byron Williams Jr., who finished fourth in the primary field of five candidates.
“Other than that, I have no support from any elected official publicly that I know of,” he said. “People are supporting me because I’m the best candidate. That’s all I can tell you.”
Cormier certainly can claim the status of the little guy as measured by campaign spending. The $133,625 Hodnett spent during the primary dwarfed the $32,196 Cormier spent, and state campaign finance reports show the trend has continued.
Hodnett’s most recent report on his expenditures since the primary showed he spent $51,222, far above Cormier’s $7,198 during the same period.
Hodnett, who has owned restaurants and a video store and spent 10 years in charge of the parish’s Recreation Department, spent 16 years on the council he characterizes as dysfunctional.
But he said time has given him insight into what needs to be done to run things correctly.
“I know what the council members need to do their job properly,” he said. “They need information to do their job correctly, and I’ll give them that information. We’ll have complete transparency; we’ve got nothing (to hide) from no one.”
Cormier — a teacher, baseball and football coach and former two-term councilman who has run for parish president twice before — appears confident that Hodnett won’t be able to build on the roughly one-third of the 8,753 votes cast in the primary.
“We think the people who did not vote for him the first time, since he was a machine candidate, will hopefully go toward us,” Cormier said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.