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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In Jefferson, a peaceful changing of the guard — but war is imminent

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 6:44 PM

click to enlarge Former state Rep. Joe Lopinto (left) will become interim sheriff of Jefferson Parish after the resignation of Sheriff Newell Normand.
  • Former state Rep. Joe Lopinto (left) will become interim sheriff of Jefferson Parish after the resignation of Sheriff Newell Normand.

Things are rarely dull in Jefferson Parish politics. I still recall the factional wars of the 1980s and early ’90s between then-DA John Mamoulides and then-Assessor Lawrence Chehardy. No election was insignificant.

Some see the resignation of Sheriff Newell Normand and the rise of interim Sheriff Joe Lopinto as triggering another era of political warfare in Jefferson. Truth be told, war has been coming to Jefferson for some time. The factional leaders are Normand and Parish President Mike Yenni. Everyone else has to choose sides. Normand’s decision to turn in his badge for a talk-radio mic at WWL-AM is merely the latest run-up to open hostilities.

As sheriff, Normand often took sides at election time, but between elections he stayed in his lane. Now, as a radio talk show host, he can talk about any issue that concerns him. He will be a very interesting talk show host, to say the least.
When Normand appointed then-state Rep. Lopinto as his second in command a year ago, it was clear that Lopinto was the heir apparent — just as legendary Sheriff Harry Lee groomed Normand years earlier.

Lopinto’s former legislative colleagues describe him as a guy who gets along with everyone, regardless of party or ideology, and who gets things done without kicking up a lot of dust. He chaired the House Criminal Justice Committee, a post that gave him a chance to showcase his even-handed approach to governance. He is steeped in the law and in law enforcement, having served eight years as a deputy under Lee and Normand before becoming a lawyer.

After Normand’s announcement, Lopinto made it clear that he won’t fix what isn’t broken. His message to voters is clear: he will continue Lee’s and Normand’s legacy of fast response times.

Lopinto officially becomes interim sheriff on Aug. 31. He plans to run in a yet-to-be-called March 2018 special election. Already some are talking about running against him — former Parish President John Young and current parish Chief Operating Officer Keith Conley among them. Young was popular while in office, but on his own he has no political muscle. Conley, a former sheriff’s deputy, is closely allied with Yenni, who remains politically toxic in the wake of his sexting scandal.
The coming war’s first major battle will be the special election for Parish Council on Oct. 21. Former District 4 Councilman Ben Zahn, another Yenni ally, succeeded Yenni as Kenner mayor, and now state Sen. Danny Martiny and Kenner Councilman Dominick Impastato are locked in a bloody battle for Zahn’s old council seat. The outcome will either keep the council aligned with Yenni or tilt it against him.

Martiny is backed by Normand and most if not all Jefferson legislators. Impastato is Yenni’s candidate, though he will be loathe to admit it given Yenni’s scandal. Nevertheless, Yenni’s political forces all are lined up behind Impastato, including Yenni’s political consultant.

That will be merely the first battle. An even bigger one could be the special election for sheriff. If Martiny wins in October, that will trigger a separate race for his Senate seat. Another special election looms for constable in Metairie.

As before, no election will be insignificant. War is here.

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