Jefferson Parish Council chair John Young's YouTube announcement that he will run for parish president in the Oct. 2 special election tossed a political gauntlet at the feet of fellow Councilman Tom Capella, who was still weighing his options at the end of last week. Both men had expressed an interest in the job vacated by former Parish President Aaron Broussard, but Assessor Lawrence Chehardy's announced retirement suddenly gave both men a chance to avert the political equivalent of thermonuclear war in Jefferson.
There was one hitch: Chehardy's announcement came too late to schedule the special election to succeed him on the same Oct. 2 ballot as the parish president's race. Instead, the special election for assessor will likely be April 2, 2011. If either Young or Capella opts to run for assessor, there will have to be a measure of trust involved in any political truce — and trust is in short supply in Jefferson these days.
There was a flurry of backroom talk last week among allies of Young and Capella, with each side trying to convince the other to run for assessor rather than parish president. Young's announcement on June 30 put the ball in Capella's court.
The potential for a "kitchen sink" race between the two at-large council members evokes memories of another special election for parish president — the 1987 race between Michael Yenni, son of the late Parish President Joe Yenni, and Councilman Willie Hof. A potential Young-Capella race promises to equal if not exceed that one in intensity, but it was unclear as of week's end which way Capella would tilt.
While the parish president's office has more visibility and prestige, it also has term limits and is seen by most voters as a full-time job. That would preclude either Young or Capella, both of whom are attorneys, from practicing law on the side. Moreover, in the wake of the scandals that chased Broussard from office, a bevy of "reforms" is likely to make the office weaker vis-a-vis the council, and subject to restrictions on outside work. The assessor's post, on the other hand, has no term limits or restrictions on outside employment. It's also a virtual lifetime job.
Young's announcement on June 30 came via an email to 2,000 people, along with a link to a YouTube video statement of candidacy by Young. "My reasons for doing it that way were twofold," Young told Gambit. "I wanted to make progressive use of technology, and I thought it was the most appropriate way to announce in light of all the suffering in Grand Isle. I just didn't think it would be a good idea to have a traditional announcement in a big hotel with all sorts of pomp and circumstance when so much attention is needed along the coast."
Qualifying closes at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 9. Until then, anything can happen. — Clancy DuBos