Incumbent St. John president, challenger spar over economy, water quality, Isaac response _lowres

St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom

Incumbent St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom will face off against well-known LaPlace trial lawyer Danny Becnel Jr. in next month’s runoff election for parish president.

With all precincts reporting, Becnel, 71, a Democrat, finished with about 32 percent of the vote in the six-way race. Robottom, 55, a Democrat, had about 31 percent.

Robottom won the job in a 2010 after a special election to replace Bill Hubbard, who resigned after pleading guilty to accepting bribes from parish contractors.

Charles Julien, 52, a Democrat from Reserve, finished third with 21 percent.

If elected, Becnel, a wealthy trial lawyer, has pledged to forgo a salary or seek a second term in office. He will also pass on an expense account, a parish vehicle and parish-provided health insurance, he said in a recent interview.

“Before I leave office, I will reduce the salary of the parish president so it is not $150,000 and does not include a car and an expense account,” he said.

During the campaign, Becnel criticized Robottom for not declaring a mandatory evacuation for 2012’s Hurricane Isaac. He also blamed her leadership for the brain-eating amoeba found in the St. John water system last year, citing two now-former parish workers’ guilty pleas for their failure to properly test chlorine levels.

However, Robottom defended her first term and praised new drainage pumps and a federal levee system that has gained momentum toward being built since she was sworn in five years ago.

In an interview, Robottom said weather forecasts ahead of Isaac did not predict that it would become so severe, and she noted that the parish did not have a history of major flooding.

The runoff is set for Nov. 21.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.