Keith Conley, Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni's second-in-command, said Friday he has ruled out a run for Jefferson Parish sheriff, reversing course after publicly flirting with a bid.
Conley, the parish's chief operating officer, said he made the decision after "much thought and consideration," adding that he feels a "commitment to continue working with (the Yenni administration) to achieve goals and accomplishments for the people and businesses we serve in Jefferson Parish."
Conley last month told The New Orleans Advocate that he had assembled a campaign team with an eye toward challenging Joe Lopinto, who was appointed interim sheriff following the unexpected retirement of Newell Normand this summer.
"As we approach this administration's mid-term, I am proud of the work that we have done together, and I look forward to a very productive future," Conley, a former Kenner City Council member, said in a statement. "To those who offered support, I thank each of you for your confidence and friendship. Your support never wavered.
"Because of my dedication to public service, I am certain there will be a day when I seek your support again," he added.
Conley's announcement came about two weeks after retired Col. John Fortunato, the longtime chief spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, formally launched his candidacy during a campaign event at the Balcony Ballroom in Metairie.
A recent UNO poll put Fortunato's support at about 44 percent, compared to 19 percent for Lopinto, with 37 percent undecided.
Asked about that poll last month, Conley said, "It's a little early for polls. That's why you have the campaign. In the end, it's about getting your name, your platform and your qualifications out there."
The three-day qualifying period does not begin until Jan. 3, with the primary set for March 24.
It's unclear whether anyone other than Fortunato intends to challenge Lopinto. Former Jefferson Parish President John Young has expressed interest in running, as has Craig Taffaro, a former chief deputy under former Sheriff Harry Lee and later Normand.
Taffaro, however, is under federal indictment, charged with tax evasion and filing a false tax return. His trial is set for Jan. 22, and he has said he will not run unless he can get the charges against him resolved favorably.
Conley worked for a time as Kenner's clerk of court. A Loyola University law school graduate, he also served as a clerk in the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna and logged more than two decades with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
He was one of Yenni's most vocal and visible supporters in Yenni's successful campaign to succeed Young as parish president. Yenni later became embroiled in a scandal over messages he sent to a teenage boy, and his popularity plummeted, also casting a shadow over those associated with him.
Staff writer Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.