The candidates seeking to become Kenner's next mayor are all recognizable to voters. Three are City Council members, one is a Jefferson Parish councilman and one is an outspoken government critic who has previously run for office.

Gregory Carroll, Maria DeFrancesch and Keith Reynaud all hope to convince voters that their tenures on the City Council have helped shape Kenner into a safe and racially diverse community and that through their work they have learned what Louisiana's sixth-largest municipality requires to keep growing.

Parish Councilman Ben Zahn — a former city councilman — says his present job requires him to balance his legislative responsibilities with several duties that mirror a mayor's, making him the best suited to lead Kenner's government.

And civic activist Al Morella says his lack of a resumé in elected office means he would have no political alliances to honor if he is chosen mayor, allowing him to focus exclusively on the best interests of Kenner's 67,000 residents.

DeFrancesch, Reynaud and Zahn are Republicans. Carroll is the lone Democrat and African-American in the race. Morella lists no political party affiliation.

They hope to complete the term, expiring in 2018, which was left unfinished when former Mayor Mike Yenni resigned in January to become Jefferson Parish president. Councilman Mike Sigur has filled the post on an interim basis since then.  

The primary is Nov. 8. A runoff, if necessary, is set for Dec. 10.


Carroll, 55, said one of his priorities would be restarting a city tourism bureau with tax revenue Kenner receives from local hotel occupants.

Kenner now pays the Jefferson Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau to market the city, but that group also is in charge of promoting the unincorporated parts of the parish.

Carroll said Kenner would benefit from having its own promotional agency, focused exclusively on convincing people to visit and conduct business in a city that stretches from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. "Nobody takes care of you like you," said Carroll, an Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office program director.

The seven-year councilman also would favor letting municipal public works employees earn overtime cutting the grass on neutral grounds and performing basic street repairs, rather than hiring outside contractors for such tasks.


DeFrancesch, 70, highlights her involvement in the city's successful efforts to attract a Target store and Grand Theatre to the Esplanade Mall, which is under new ownership after years of mostly struggling to secure tenants.

She also touts her service on a committee that worked with the city of New Orleans — the owner of Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner — to bundle properties left vacant after the "airport buyout" in the 1980s and 1990s to resolve complaints about noise from landing and departing planes. That bundling made it easier to sell the properties to business people interested in returning the land to commerce, said DeFrancesch, a retired high school educator and administrator.

CarMax plans to eventually open its first New Orleans-area store on such land.

"Bringing new things to this area is important," said DeFrancesch, who has been both a district and an at-large representative during 10 years on the council. "I'll push hard for that."


Morella, 70, said one of his primary focuses in office would be instituting a tax on all Internet sales in Kenner.

The retired longshoreman said it is obvious Kenner's local retailers don't attract as many customers as they once did because of the popularity of online marketplaces. Those sites don't contribute sales tax revenue to the city, though the state has taken steps to try to capture some of those dollars.

An Internet sales tax would compensate for that lost revenue, said Morella, who has previously lost races for mayor and Jefferson Parish president.

The former Kenner Housing Authority commissioner proudly said he self-finances his campaigns so he is not indebted to donors. He also proudly said he owns neither a computer nor a cellphone. But he said he'd carry a cellphone if elected mayor and would have his aides conduct city business on computers as necessary.


Reynaud, 62, said one of his main priorities would be to move city application processes — such as for jobs, zoning changes and building permits — online. Paperless procedures make businesses run more efficiently, he said, and Kenner's government would be no exception.

Reynaud said he also would make lists of property code violators and blighted buildings available online as an aid to people interested in purchasing troubled properties, rehabilitating them and selling them to purchasers who envision new purposes for the parcels.

"It's better than just having to demolish the properties," said Reynaud, a city councilman for four years and the owner of an air-conditioning and heating service.

Reynaud said he would finance the shift to online operations by eliminating administrative positions in Kenner City Hall that he considers redundant, saving tens of thousands of dollars a year in salaries and benefits.


Zahn, 48, said he intends to accelerate improvements to Williams Boulevard and other main city streets to alleviate traffic, beautify the corridors and make it easier to do business along them.

The owner of a decorating business, Zahn said he would push for upscale waterfront living options, boutique shops and entertainment venues in Kenner's Laketown district. And he pledged to use the city's "planned use development" laws to ensure the Esplanade Mall — a vital source of sales tax revenue — is maintained to the community's benefit and satisfaction.

During the race, Zahn has amassed the largest war chest and won most of the key endorsements up for grabs from civic groups and elected officials. His opponents have cast that support as empty political favoritism, but Zahn defends its importance.

He said he earned his supporters' trust by efficiently representing constituents of all types while on the City Council from 2006 to 2012 and on the Parish Council for nearly five years.

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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