One of many memorable quotes from "The Godfather" sums up the current state of Jefferson Parish politics. In the film, caporegime Pete Clemenza tells young Michael Corleone about the bloody gangland war to come. “These things gotta happen every five years or so … 10 years,” Clemenza says matter-of-factly. “Helps get rid of the bad blood.”
So it is with elections in Jefferson. Every decade or so, rival political factions go to war. It helps get rid of the bad blood.
Councilmanic term limits no doubt are partly responsible for some of the hotly contested races that Jefferson voters will see in the Oct. 12 primary, but there’s more to it than that. There’s also the sexting scandal that has enveloped Parish President Mike Yenni, the resignation and subsequent federal indictment of At-Large Councilman Chris Roberts and the cycle of generational politics.
The most recent development in Jefferson — former WDSU news anchor Scott Walker’s decision to run for the at-large Parish Council “B” seat — is a good example of generational politics at work. Walker, 44, will be making his first bid for public office against term-limited District 2 Councilman Paul Johnston, 72, who began his political career in 1995 as a member of the Harahan City Council. Johnston previously announced he would seek the at-large “B” seat.
Johnston starts with a decided financial advantage. He has roughly $300,000 in his campaign account. Walker, whose name and face are familiar to voters as a news anchor, admits he has a steep climb to match that number but says he’s confident he can do it.
The West Bank of Jefferson Parish is poised for big changes.
The Walker-Johnston matchup also reflects the domino effect of other developments. Incumbent At-Large “B” Councilwoman Cynthia Lee Sheng is not term limited, but she’s running for parish president in the wake of the Yenni sexting scandal. Also running for that job is former Parish President John Young. The parish president’s race, like the at-large contest between Walker and Johnston, will generate lots of fireworks. All four candidates have retained high-powered media consultants who are veterans of past electoral wars in Jefferson.
In the other at-large council contest, District 1 Councilman Ricky Templet will seek the “A” seat vacated by Roberts, who was term limited anyway. So far, Templet has not drawn a high-profile opponent.
Traditionally, one at-large council member comes from the East Bank and one from the West Bank. So far, that tradition appears to be holding as both Walker and Johnston are East Bankers while Templet is a West Banker.
Elsewhere, term limits have created opportunities in three of the council’s five districts — in Templet’s District 1, in Johnston’s District 2 and in Mark Spears’ District 3. We’ll see some fierce competition for each of those seats.
Meanwhile, first-term incumbents Dominick Impastato and Jennifer Van Vrancken appear headed to easy re-election in Council Districts 4 and 5, respectively. As of press time, no one had announced against either of them.
Qualifying is Aug. 6-8, which is barely five weeks away. A lot can happen between now and then, but already it’s clear that Jefferson Parish will see some of the state’s most intense campaigning.
As Clemenza put it, these things gotta happen.
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