22nd April 2014 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
A Yenni Dominates Kenner Once More…. When Kenner District 2 Council candidate William “Bill” Schwertz decided to drop out on April 15, the last potential vocal opponent of Mayor Mike Yenni evaporated.
Schwertz became the second runoff contender to give up prior to the May 3 election, citing as his reason the growing power of Yenni’s political organization, despite the respectable 29 percent of the vote the Council candidate earned in the primary.
“I want to thank all the voters of District 2 who voted for me,” he said. “I believe my business background and political independence made me the best candidate. I, however, ran second to Mike Sigur. Unfortunately, for me to continue this campaign I will have to pull more money out of my pocket while Mike Sigur can have much of his campaign funded by those with city contracts or connected to the mayor –just like the other ‘The Consensus Choice’ candidates.”
One could call it money. Allies of the incumbent mayor tended to be better financed than the $40,000 Schwertz spent, mostly of his own money. But, Kenner politics has been historically volatile, with an angry electorate supporting the opposition faction every four years—at least in the days, less than a decade ago, when the Congemi brothers faced off against Phil Capitano. Challengers usually could tap into a caldron of public anger in most elections, regardless of how much money they possessed.
That began to change when a young Mike Yenni managed to upset campaign of Ed Muniz, subsequently becoming Kenner’s CAO, and later mayor. Now, less than ten years later, the Kenner electorate has solidified its support behind the incumbent regime in ways voters have not in decades. At least, since Yenni’s grandfather Joe was Mayor of Kenner.
Consider the state of the political opposition in Kenner. Yenni opponent and Council At-Large candidate Kent Denapolis is a sitting District Councilman, able to raise money even despite term limits. Financially, he held his own against Keith Conley, a Yenni ally, and a former City Attorney, but still Denapolis opted on Friday, April 11th, to drop out. He cited money, but also the political uphill climb he had against Conley.
Despite his incumbency, Denapolis, who had crossed swords repeatedly over the last four years with Yenni, noted the mayor’s smashing re-election victory two weeks ago, and the fact that the incumbent’s mandate was matched with the election an overwhelmingly supportive city council. Public support was neither a fluke, nor limited to the mayor. Yenni had coattails long enough to convince Denapolis to quit his runoff campaign for the Kenner Division B At-Large seat. And, unlike Schwartz, he only trailed Conley 44% to 47% in the primary.
Yenni’s victory was also racially consistent as well. African-American precincts in South Kenner generally supported him with the same ¾ of the vote he received elsewhere, sometimes higher. Only in one precinct in the whole city did he fall to 63 percent of the vote, and only four had the incumbent mayor below 70 percent. The breath of such a victory Kenner has not been seen in decades.
In fact, at first glance, it appeared totally unpredicted. Yenni, when first elected mayor, saw the public swat down overwhelmingly his attempt to raise property taxes 4-1. Just last year, he again faced defeat at the polls just from an electorate who made it illegal for his top staff to campaign on the mayor’s behalf (in a referendum where the public turned 2-1 against Yenni).
However, below the surface, the mayor had constructed a political organization that earned him support from State GOP leaders such as Chairman Roger Villere, as well as from rank and file GOP voters. The fact that these Republicans were so willing to ignore Yenni’s tax increases, endorsing the incumbent, convinced one of Yenni’s two former opponents to leave the Republican Party.
Now six candidates allied with Yenni will take seats on the council when new terms start July 1. Only Gregory Carroll returns as an occasional opponent of the Administration. The District 1 Councilman was the only vote against the Kenner 2030 beautification plan, which Yenni credits as the reason for the ubiquity of support from the electorate in the April election.
This article originally published in the April 21, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.