Politicos all over Jefferson Parish were speculating last week as to the real reason why veteran Assessor Lawrence Chehardy decided to resign midway through his current term. Chehardy, 57, will have served 35 years in the post when his resignation becomes effective at the end of the year. He succeeded his father, who held the post for 10 years, and he had a virtual lock on the job since his first election in 1975.
"I've been in this office 35 years, and that's a very long time to be in the public limelight and to be as active as I have been, both in terms of the office and politically," Chehardy told Gambit. "You reach a point where, after 35 years, you say to yourself, 'This is long enough. It's time to move on.'"
Chehardy's decision comes less than six months after Aaron Broussard resigned as parish president and Tim Whitmer stepped down as Broussard's right-hand man in parish government. Broussard and Whitmer's resignations came in the midst of a federal investigation into parish government and the awarding of contracts to firms doing business with Whitmer's insurance agency. Chehardy's name has not been linked to that scandal.
A champion of the homestead exemption, Chehardy has been a statewide as well as parish political force for decades, although in recent years he assumed a lower profile in parish elections. Still, he proved many times that his endorsement and the Chehardy name held a lot of magic when he chose to make his presence felt.
Chehardy says he had hoped his resignation would trigger an October special election, but it came about a week too late. Now the race to succeed him will likely be April 2, 2011. That could still affect the political war many expect in Jefferson over the Oct. 2 special election for parish president. At-Large Councilmen Tom Capella and John Young are the leading candidates in that race, and if both men qualify next week (qualifying is July 7-9), it promises to be an expensive, bruising contest.
"My decision and the timing of my announcement had nothing to do with the parish president's race," Chehardy says. "If the parish president's race were a factor, I would have researched the law to make absolutely sure that the election could have been called in October. The truth is, I've been talking this over with my wife for some time, and we finally reached a final decision over the weekend, so I announced it."
The assessor's job is not as high profile as that of parish president, but the assessor doesn't have to contend with term limits — and he or she can still practice law on the side. Both Capella and Young are lawyers.
The vacancy in the assessor's office presents an opportunity for an uneasy truce, but that would mean the two councilmen — and the political factions behind each — would have to trust each other for a period of months. Given the personalities involved and recent political history in Jefferson, that would be a high-wire act unlike anything seen in the parish for quite a while.
Sources say politicos on both sides of the Young-Capella race have been strategizing since Chehardy announced his retirement. — Clancy DuBos