Public activist seeks to unseat Kenner Mayor Yenni
24th March 2014 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
Candidates are often asked by reporters just what issues they have fought for prior to running for office. It is not a question, though, that is often levied to Walt Bennetti by the media.
The public activist has been a ubiquitous voice on the issues of Jefferson Parish and Kenner politics, most recently as one of the members of “Stop the Tolls” coalition that ended the CCC tolls. However, Bennetti has been best known as a thorn in the side of Mayor Mike Yenni’s administration, dating back to his tenure as CAO for Ed Muniz and throughout Yenni full term as Mayor of Kenner.
So much of a thorn that Bennetti opted last month to qualify against Yenni, and attempt to deny the incumbent a second term as Mayor of Kenner.
As Bennetti told The Louisiana Weekly. “Through my work as President of Citizens For A Better Kenner, we’ve been able to have an impact on the City of Kenner. We fought to defeat Mayor Yenni’s plan to double property taxes and fought against the mayor’s plan to close playgrounds. I feel that I can have a greater impact on our community as an elected official and stand up for our community.”
It is that fight that encouraged him to run for mayor himself. “I think that the Kenner tax vote encompasses what I am. It would have been easy for me to stay on sidelines and not rock the boat, but that’s not me. I felt compelled to stand up. At every opportunity, I debated Mayor Yenni. I talked with residents and civic associations. I would talk with people when I went to buy groceries or put gas in my car.”
“I went door-to-door. I wrote editorials on ClickJefferson.com and letters to the editor. I went on the radio and TV trying to push for less government and less taxes. I wanted people to know that there was a better way than adding new taxes and increasing spending. The taxes were defeated saving Kenner residents and business owners $9 Million dollars annually. That’s $9 Million dollars a year in people’s pockets that they can spend, save or invest. I believe that money in your pocket is better than giving that money to a politician.”
But, that fight ended up only commencing Bennetti’s battles with the Yenni Administration. He became a frequent critic of the contracting within city hall. “Kenner City Government shouldn’t exist to enrich Mike Yenni’s millionaire friends and campaign contributors,” Bennetti explained. “ It should exist for the betterment of all Kenner residents and business owners. I will not accept campaign contributions from city contractors and as your Mayor, Kenner and the Mayor’s Office won’t be bought and sold to the highest contributor.”
“Reducing the size of Kenner city government is a priority for me as is hiring a qualified,” the mayoral candidate continued, “competent City-Manager and Department Directors. Unlike Mayor Yenni however, I won’t fire the workers and hire more Chiefs. We can’t grow the top of Kenner’s payroll at the expense of the hard-working men and women who keep our city moving.”
Bennetti also pledged on focusing on improving Kenner’s business climate and Economic Development.
“It is irresponsible for Mayor Yenni, or any mayor, to say that ‘Kenner has too many jobs’ and that ‘Kenner is a dying city,’” Bennetti said. “Kenner isn’t ‘dying.’ Mike Yenni’s lack of leadership and the toxic environment in Kenner city government is stopping Kenner from growing. I guess when you’ve never held a non-political job in your life and you rely on millionaires and political mentors like Aaron Broussard for advice, it’s easy to lose touch with reality. Instead of taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, perhaps Mayor Yenni should ask his millionaire friends to invest in Kenner and create jobs instead of ‘donating’ public art that will cost the city to maintain while they get a large tax deduction.”
“It is also irresponsible for Mayor Yenni to be ‘blindsided’ when major stores announce that they are leaving The Esplanade Mall and businesses of all types are fleeing Kenner. For Kenner’s economy to flourish in the future, we need a proactive mayor who doesn’t cede economic development duties to a hand-picked committee of his millionaire friends and a group like JEDCO that doesn’t make Kenner a priority.”
“We need a Mayor who will work hard to retain our existing businesses and attract new businesses, provide jobs and job training so our workforce can grow and prosper and provide able consumers for Kenner’s retail shops and restaurants.”
Regarding Yenni’s recent unveiling of his plans to develop Laketown, Bennetti said, “The people of Kenner need a concrete plan for Laketown, Rivertown, The Esplanade and other retail corridors like West Esplanade and Chateau Blvd. We don’t need drawings of Giant Ferris Wheels at Laketown or the idle promises of an out-of-touch mayor who claims that stores like Kohl’s are coming and then they never do, or a mayor who says that ‘Kenner is a dying city.’ If you went to a bank and sought financing with phony ‘concept drawings’ and no real plan, you’d be laughed out of the banker’s office. Why would anyone finance a company whose leader says that it is ‘dying?’”
“Kenner has many advantages that we could and should use to our advantage to help us continue to grow and prosper. Advantages like our location near New Orleans; our low property taxes; convenient access to shopping; the natural resources at Lake Pontchartrain; easy access to I-10 and the Armstrong Airport and many more.”
“We need to leverage those advantages. Not publicly state that ‘Kenner is a dying city’ as Mayor Yenni has.”
Discussing Yenni’s $42 Million bond debt sale to finance aesthetic projects, which Bennetti filed a lawsuit to delay so the public could provide more input and his attempt to force a voter referendum to approve Yenni’s plan, Bennetti said, “We don’t need a $42 Million facelift funded by debt with an additional $17 million in interest and we don’t need a plan formulated by one person that requires the city to pay for it for the next 20 years without voter approval. This isn’t a 2030 plan — it’s a 2033 plan because Kenner tax dollars will still be paying for it in 2033.”
“Kenner doesn’t need a ‘facelift’ —we need a spring cleaning. With the help of the people of Kenner, we will start that spring cleaning on April 5 at City Hall.”
The election for Kenner mayor is April 4, 2014, with early voting starting March 22.
This article originally published in the March 17, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.