Inside Jeff Parish



Taylor Tempted by Top Prize?
Pat Taylor is everywhere these days. The successful oil industry executive and founder of the Taylor Plan college scholarship program (later expanded to become today's popular TOPS program) is turning up on television commercials and speaking to organizations across Louisiana.

His immediate focus is to reform TOPS and to eliminate the bureaucracy associated with the scholarships. Taylor would like to reduce the paperwork necessary for qualification. In a recent speech to the Professional Republican Women of St. Tammany, Taylor displayed with disgust a multi-page federal form that the state now requires parents to complete. His goal is to eliminate this requirement and to streamline the TOPS bureaucracy in the regular session of 2003.

Also in his speech, Taylor criticized the Foster administration, citing the governor's lack of assistance in reforming TOPS and his failure to bring jobs and industry to Louisiana. The tone of his speech to the St. Tammany group led me to ask whether he would consider running for governor in 2003. "People have been persuading me to do this for 15 years," he says. "It is not what I want, but I have learned never to say never.

"Louisiana must have a proactive governor because we can't afford another eight years like this," he adds. Taylor believes that the top two priorities of the next governor, whoever it is, should be "to keep our promises to our kids and to take the success of the TOPS program and bring it to the next level by bringing jobs and industry to our state."

Kenner Miracle
In one of the biggest political upsets in Kenner history, newcomer Dominic Weilbaecher defeated long-time incumbent Betty Bonura for the Council-at-large position.

Bonura has served for years in political office in Kenner on the school board and on the council, which she recently served as president.

In the campaign, Weilbaecher spent less than $10,000 and flew below radar until the last week of the campaign when he sent out blistering mail pieces attacking Bonura. He blasted Bonura for supporting the doubling of the city's garbage fees, increasing her own salary and walking out on a 1999 Kenner council meeting when there were citizens waiting to address the council.

In addition, Weilbaecher attached himself to the successful campaigns of incumbent council members John Lavarine III and Phil Capitano. Mailers were sent to the voters in each of their districts, linking Weilbaecher to the incumbents.

In contrast, Bonura supported challenger Jules Carona against incumbent Capitano, a move that probably cost her the election as Capitano easily defeated Carona. The high turnout in Lavarine's district (2) and Capitano's district (5) pushed Weilbaecher over the top.

The big loser in the race was Kenner Police Chief Nick Congemi, who spent plenty of time working against nemesis Capitano, placing personal phone calls for Carona and advising Carona on his campaign.

Other than Weilbaecher, the big winner was the Jefferson Alliance for Good Government, the only major organization to back Weilbaecher. The alliance's endorsement indicated that Bonura was in serious trouble.

Another winner was Capitano, who withstood several challengers and the Kenner chief of police to win big (75 percent of the vote) and possibly lay the groundwork for a race for mayor.

Mayor's Race Speculation
In the fall of 2003, all Jefferson Parish Council members will be forced out of their current positions due to term limits.

One council member, Ed Muniz, will vacate his seat to run for council chairman. Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi, who was just reelected without opposition, is one candidate being mentioned prominently to replace Muniz.

Congemi's reelection as mayor was assured when Jefferson Parish Councilman John Lavarine Jr. dropped out of the race. If Congemi runs for the council, he will be considered the prohibitive favorite, which would set up an interesting scenario for Kenner's mayor's race, scheduled to occur in 18 months.

One candidate who will definitely run is Lavarine. He decided to forego an expensive race against Congemi to wait for an open seat and has great name recognition and plenty of money. However, one Kenner insider says that Lavarine created problems when he decided to oppose Phil Capitano in his reelection. "Lavarine voted against Capitano in the Republican endorsement committee," he says. "And his son (Kenner Councilman John Lavarine III) didn't help Capitano in the race at all." These were surprising developments, since Lavarine and Capitano have been allied together against other Kenner political heavyweights over the past six years.

Capitano may run for mayor as well. According to a supporter, Capitano is setting up a citywide organization and support staff. "By helping Dominic Weilbaecher get elected," he says, "Capitano now has a strong ally on the council and is known better in south Kenner, a area where he was previously unknown."

Other candidates who may run include Police Chief Nick Congemi and Councilman-at-large Terry McCarthy, although both of them suffered stinging defeats when their candidates (Carona and Bonura) lost in the recent election.

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