With term limits kicking in next year, members of the Jefferson Parish Council are weighing their options for the future. Council Vice-Chairman Lloyd Giardina has already officially announced his candidacy for chairman. The current chairman, Aaron Broussard, will be running for parish president next year when Tim Coulon leaves office.
Council members Ed Muniz and Donald Jones also have both expressed interest. Despite the competition, Giardina is moving ahead. "I am actively engaged right now," he says. "I have been getting together my organization and fundraising." Giardina believes that it will take at least $600,000 to run a competitive race. Currently, Giardina has $400,000 in the bank and is planning another major fundraiser later this year.
Giardina, 64, wants to conclude his career as council chairman. He has served for 22 years and believes that Jefferson Parish is poised for greatness. "We are in an enviable position," he says. "We have the best bond ratings in the state. We pay our debts. Our recreation department is great, and we are catching up on our infrastructure."
A resident of Westwego, Giardina's political power base has always been on the West Bank, with his current district composed of mostly West Bank voters. Unfortunately for Giardina, the West Bank -- although a growing area -- only includes 40 percent of the overall Jefferson Parish electorate. He will have to overcome Kenner's Muniz, who has strong ties in the more populous East Bank.
Giardina does cite a potential problem for Muniz, since the new parish president is likely to be Broussard, also of Kenner. According to Giardina, Jefferson Parish voters from unincorporated areas might believe that the City of Kenner would have too much influence if Kenner residents hold the two most powerful positions in the parish. In the elections of 2003, that theory will be put to the test.
Assessing their Futures
As Council Chairman Broussard prepares to run for parish president and members Giardina, Jones and Muniz get ready for a competitive race to replace him, other councilmembers are also making plans. The longest serving member, Butch Ward, will be retiring. Nick Giambelluca is eyeing the state Senate position being vacated by Ken Hollis, who is leaving that office to run for governor. Finally, John Lavarine, who dropped out of a race for mayor of Kenner this year, looks to run for the mayor's office again if current mayor Louis Congemi leaves the position to run for the council seat being vacated by Muniz.
Upsetting the Apple Cart
A possible wrinkle in this scenario could occur if Jefferson Parish voters pass a charter change amendment. Right now, there are three council members -- Giambelluca, Jones and Muniz -- who are working on a plan to change the composition of the council from a six-member/one-chair system to a five-member/two-at-large system, similar to that of Orleans Parish and Kenner. Some advocates of this change believe that it would give more say to Jefferson Parish voters by allowing them to vote for three separate offices, instead of two. Opponents are worried about the impact on term limits and do not want to change the current system.
If passed, this new council format would create larger districts with new district boundaries, thereby allowing current council members to run again for two more terms because the districts will be different. Business leaders in Jefferson Parish are polling the issue right now to gauge popular support. Any charter change approved by the council would have to be approved by Jefferson Parish voters.
Landrieu Challenged on Left
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu will be facing at least two Republican opponents: Congressman John Cooksey of Monroe and State Rep. Tony Perkins of Baton Rouge. Now, it appears the Democrat will also face a challenge on the left from the Rev. Raymond Brown.
State director of the National Action Network, a national civil rights organization led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Brown is best known for speaking out against gangster rap, racism and the open container law in New Orleans. He previously has run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, state representative and New Orleans City Council. Brown claims that his race this year will be different. "This time, I will have resources," he says.
Brown expects to receive Sharpton's support and could pose trouble for Landrieu. As an African-American leader, Brown could exploit the resentment of many in the African-American community who are still upset that Landrieu did not endorse Cleo Fields in the 1995 gubernatorial run-off against Mike Foster.
Brown, a Democrat who might run as an Independent, will stress the issues of federal housing, crime, the conditions of roads and bridges, the environment, and especially education. According to Brown, Landrieu has been too focused on coastal erosion and not concerned enough about education and resources for Louisiana schools.