Early voting for the March 24 primary in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish has already begun and will continue through Saturday, March 17. Turnout is projected to be low, even though some very important elections are on the ballot. Below are our endorsements in three of those elections — for Jefferson Parish sheriff, Kenner mayor and state representative in House District 93 in New Orleans. Also on the ballot are judicial contests in New Orleans, a constable's race in Metairie, and several city council elections in Kenner. We make no recommendations in those races.
The most recent statewide special election — for state treasurer last November — generated a pathetic turnout of just 13 percent. We hope the local turnout on March 24 will be significantly higher. If you don't turn out on Election Day, don't complain if things turn out badly later.
For Jefferson Parish Sheriff:
When longtime Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand stepped down last year, his chief deputy and legal adviser, Joe Lopinto, by law became interim sheriff until a special election could be held. We consider both Lopinto and his opponent, former sheriff's office spokesman John Fortunato, to be good public servants — and "good guys," though the rancorous tenor of this election will put that perception to the test. While Fortunato has logged more years in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office (JPSO), Lopinto's superior credentials speak for themselves, which is why we recommend his election.
Lopinto began his career with JPSO in 1997 and became a narcotics detective before leaving the department seven years later to get a degree in criminal justice and a law degree. He served two terms in the Louisiana House of Representatives, where he chaired the Criminal Justice Committee. He also served as legal counsel for the sheriff's office, defending deputies in state and federal courts. Lopinto makes a strong case that a sheriff needs to be a top-tier administrator as well as the parish's top crime fighter. Sheriffs also serve as tax collectors, civil process servers and jailers.
The JPSO has a force of more than 1,500 employees. The sheriff should therefore be someone — like legendary Harry Lee and recently retired Newell Normand — who has a wide range of professional and administrative experience. Lopinto has that kind of experience. Moreover, the latest FBI statistics show crime in unincorporated Jefferson Parish is at an all-time low. Amid the attacks and counter-attacks of the campaign, Jefferson voters should focus on that fact — and elect Joe Lopinto sheriff.
For Kenner Mayor: Ben Zahn
Incumbent Mayor Ben Zahn has been in office a little more than a year, and in that time he has begun implementing a vision for revitalizing the state's sixth-largest city. He has pursued significant redevelopment of Kenner's troubled shopping centers by strategically using code enforcement to draw out-of-state landlords to the table. He proposes to remake the Pontchartrain Center — an underused resource for years — into a draw for larger events, and he has plans for developments near Kenner's lakefront.
Traffic is another important issue to all Kenner residents. Zahn is pushing to extend the Williams Boulevard neutral ground south of Interstate 10 to Kenner City Hall, which will make turning in to retail establishments along Williams significantly safer. It also will beautify one of Kenner's major thoroughfares.
Of regional significance, Zahn has a good working relationship with New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell. That will be paramount in light of the scheduled opening of the new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport less than a year from now. Ben Zahn has earned a full four-year term as Kenner's mayor.
For State Representative
House District 93: Royce Duplessis
Four candidates are vying to succeed state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, in the state House of Representatives. Moreno was elected to the City Council's At-large Division 1 seat in October. The district includes some of the most valuable real estate in Louisiana — downtown, the Superdome, the French Quarter, and other historic neighborhoods. We recommend attorney Royce Duplessis in this race.
Duplessis has a strong background in local government and civic engagement. He served as chief of staff to former City Councilman James Carter and clerked for a judge in the District of Columbia. He also worked for an international law firm and as a special counsel to Louisiana Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson. His legislative funding priorities will be education — especially early childhood education — public hospitals and TOPS scholarships. He also supports decriminalizing marijuana, allowing cities and parishes to set their own minimum wages and banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons. He has endorsements from many individuals and organizations, including the Alliance for Good Government.