The sudden resignation of at-large Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts on April 29 touched off a tsunami of rumors about the councilman’s future, but the more interesting topic is the future of West Bank politics. With or without Roberts, big changes are coming to the West Bank.
In the short run, Roberts’ interim replacement is coming down to Keith Conley, a former top aide to Parish President Mike Yenni, and businessman Larry Katz, who was nominated for an interim council seat several years ago. The interim appointee will serve until the new council takes office next January. Parish elections coincide with statewide elections in October.
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Conley was nominated by term-limited District 1 Councilman Ricky Templet, who is running for Roberts’ former at-large “A” seat. Katz was nominated by District 4 Councilman Dominick Impastato of Kenner, where Conley also resides.
For decades, the two at-large seats have been split between Jefferson’s East and West Banks. That split is an unwritten political understanding, not the law. Roberts lives on the West Bank, so it’s interesting that both leading candidates for the interim job live on the East Bank.
That political anomaly may not last long. Templet, a West Banker, has no major announced opponents for Roberts’ seat. Ditto for District 2 Councilman Paul Johnston of Harahan, who plans to seek the at-large “B” seat currently held by Cynthia Lee-Sheng, who’s running for parish president.
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Conley was rumored to be running for an at-large seat, but the parish charter bars him from running if he gets the interim post. Whoever gets the nod should promise not to seek any political post in the fall — and not to schedule or hold fundraisers. This much is certain: Parish rules require Roberts’ seat to be filled at a special council meeting to be held no later than May 16.
Now for the bigger picture: Roberts’ departure comes amid major demographic changes on the West Bank, which are driving tectonic shifts in Jefferson Parish overall — from a predominantly white bedroom community two decades ago to an increasingly diverse parish today. Consider the following statistics:
• From 2000 to 2017, Jefferson Parish’s white population declined from 64% to 53% of the total population.
• Meanwhile, Jefferson’s minority population increased from 36% to 47%. The most significant increase came among Hispanic residents, who now comprise 15% of Jefferson’s population. African-Americans remain the largest minority contingent at 26%; Asians are 4% and others, the rest. In less than a decade, nonwhites will be Jefferson’s majority.
Voter registration figures are equally revealing. Templet’s Council District 1, which is anchored by Gretna, is 51.2% white, 35.3% black, and 13.4% “other.” The district could gain even more minority voters after the 2020 Census.
“The West Bank overall has not had a white voting majority for some time,” says Greg Rigamer, a local demographer and political consultant. “It is currently 44.6% white, 44.1% black, and 11.3% other races. It typically casts about 38% of the vote parish-wide, which is a lot, but overall the West Bank is losing some of the political muscle it once had.”
All of which will make the fall elections even more interesting to watch.