Beginning in January, Jennifer Van Vrancken will spend the next four years representing Metairie-based District 5 on the Jefferson Parish Council, after spending the last five rising through Parish President John Young’s administration.
With all 67 precincts in on Saturday night, Van Vrancken topped former interim Parish Councilman Mike Thomas 14,264 votes to 7,603 (65 percent to 35 percent) in the race to succeed District 5 Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng.
Both Van Vrancken and Thomas are Republicans.
Lee-Sheng, also a Republican, was barred by term limits from seeking another term in her district, so she ran for one of the council’s two at-large seats and won unopposed.
Van Vrancken, a lawyer and former television journalist, promised voters her first order of business would be to pursue improvements for the district’s many open drainage canals. There were a few incidents earlier this year in which people drowned in cars that accidentally drove into a pair of canals that run along two of Metairie’s busiest thoroughfares, and Van Vrancken, 44, said it was important to erect barriers that would make it more difficult for things like that to happen.
She also said other canals could be redesigned to offer passers-by some walking paths and greenery. Her goal would be to transform Metairie’s drainage canals from dangerous eyesores into assets capable of improving residents’ quality of life.
Van Vrancken joined Young’s staff as an administrative assistant in 2010. She worked her way up to the No. 2 position in the administration — chief operating officer — by January 2014 and remained in that role until she resigned this spring to run for the council.
As Young’s No. 2, Van Vrancken said she helped supervise 3,000 employees, 35 parish government departments and a $580 million budget. That has prepared her to handle the district’s needs as soon as she is sworn in come January, she told voters.
Meanwhile, the 42-year-old Thomas’ central campaign promise was to prioritize anti-crime initiatives. Though the Sheriff’s Office has its own dedicated funds, Thomas said if elected he would push for legislation authorizing the agency to enforce parish ordinances addressing things such as blighted properties — which can encourage criminal activity — instead of just state laws.
Thomas said his seven-year stint as a Parish Council aide beginning in 2004 and another eight months as an interim, appointed councilman beginning in April 2011 had prepared him for the job to represent District 5. He also touted his past experience as an assistant district attorney and as an assistant parish attorney in Jefferson.
Van Vrancken is only the fourth woman to ever be elected to the Parish Council. She is the third straight be elected to the District 5 seat following Jennifer Sneed — who was in office from 2004 to 2008 before she resigned to move to New Orleans — and Lee-Sheng, 48, who took over in 2009.
When Van Vrancken and Lee-Sheng are sworn in to their new offices come January, it will be the first time two women elected to the Parish Council serve simultaneously.