Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni and Parish Council Chairwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng may face off at the polls next year, but political animus was nowhere to be seen Wednesday as the two made a joint appearance at the Jefferson Chamber's annual "State of Jefferson" luncheon.
The two politicians shared the stage and touted many of the same accomplishments to an audience of several hundred.
Yenni is up for re-election next October, but most observers say his chances for victory will be greatly hampered by a sexting scandal in which he admitted sending "inappropriate texts" to a 17-year-old boy.
Former Parish President John Young, who attended the luncheon, has already said he intends to run for president again. But the potential candidate many are watching is Lee-Sheng, the daughter of former Sheriff Harry Lee. She has said she is "seriously considering" a run, and many insiders think that if she enters the race, she will become the favorite to win the job.
Yenni, who has feuded with council members in the past, had kind words for them Wednesday, calling them "friends" and saying that the "vast majority" of parish government's actions came with "universal approval from a united council and administration."
Yenni and Lee-Sheng agreed that Jefferson Parish has done big things in the last year, but they said more needs to be done to make it a place that consistently attracts new businesses and residents.
The biggest win for the parish, they said, was the purchase of the former Avondale Shipyard site, a 254-acre industrial site on the west bank that has been largely vacant for several years. The company that bought it, Avondale Marine, plans to use its 8,000 feet of waterfront access and freight infrastructure to turn the former shipbuilding yard into a "global logistics hub" that can move freight of all types and sizes.
The project has been touted as a major bonus for the parish that could create 2,000 jobs.
Yenni and Lee-Sheng also pointed to planned major renovations at the Elmwood Center, an outdoor shopping center that will be transformed into a mixed-use development with retail, office space and residential offerings.
Those projects bring a "smile of satisfaction," Yenni said.
But the parish also faces challenges.
Yenni said heavy rains keep him up at night, constantly worrying about the parish's drainage infrastructure. Though his administration has worked hard to upgrade the system, he said, more will have to be done in the future.
Lee-Sheng is concerned about demographic changes and an aging housing inventory that she said is not as attractive to younger buyers as it was a generation ago.
People used to like to live in one spot and drive to stores to shop, but now they like to live in an area that integrates work, living and shopping, she said. Elmwood's redevelopment is a good example of what Jefferson will need more of, she said.
"Our housing stock is old and dated," she said, noting that more than 90 percent of houses in the parish are more than 25 years old.
A topic not addressed in any depth Wednesday was the parish's landfill. The parish-owned, contractor-run facility has faced angry criticism in recent months after foul smells plaguing residents of Harahan, River Ridge and Waggaman led to the discovery that gas and liquid collection systems at the landfill were not functioning properly.
A recent report said the landfill may not be the source of all the odors, and parish officials have said it is definitely not the source of particulate matter that has been seen falling in those areas, but anger over the facility remains.
Many residents have called on the parish to do more to identify and fix the sources of the odors.