Editor’s Note: I supported and campaigned for Stephen Petit during both of his failed campaigns.
Louisiana politics truly is a cesspool.
Despite Bobby Jindal’s “Gold Standard” of Ethics, pushed by Republicans who flooded the State House in 2008, politics in Louisiana literally stinks.
And, it’s not just state politics.
Here in Jefferson Parish. you have the same political machines steamrolling over potential candidates who stand in the way of the anointed few who seem to continue to move up the ladder despite dubious qualifications and even more dubious character.
One need look no further than Parish President Mike Yenni and chauffeur turned Sheriff Newell Normand to prove my point.
Back room deals. Job offers. Cash. If the average person knew what went on behind the scenes, they might be shocked.
Of course, this being Louisiana, perhaps they wouldn’t be shocked or even care.
When I ran for office in 2012 and 2014, and when I helped in friend’s campaigns, the offers to drop out or defect from my friends were plentiful.
“We’ll help you run for another office. How about State Rep? City Council?”
“We can appoint you to boards and commissions and raise your profile. Then you can run and we will support you.”
“We can hold a fundraiser so you can recoup the money you spent and have money on hand for your next campaign.”
People that I thought were my friends were acting as go-betweens bringing me different offers. When I said “No”, they’d be back a few days later with a different offer.
It reminded me of the scene in The Godfather II when Tessio is found to have betrayed the Corleone family and is about to be killed.
Tessio (played by the recently deceased Abe Vigoda), looks at Tom Hagan and says, “Tell Michael it was just business.”
Politics IS Business in Louisiana and Business is good (if you have your hand out, which I've never had).
Which brings me to twice-defeated Judge candidate and current Kenner Code Enforcement Director Stephen Petit.
I first met Stephen in 2013 when he was planning to run for Juvenile Court Judge. We were introduced by a mutual friend and spent several hours discussing politics in the French Press Coffeehouse on Williams Blvd.
Petit seemed like a decent guy with a few bumps along the way but he seemed to genuinely care about kids and believed the position was perfect for him.
I agreed to help in any way I could although, to be honest, I wasn’t asked nor did I do much for Stephen’s campaign.
Immediately after meeting with Stephen, and leading up to the election, I received pressure to disassociate with him and support the eventual winner and heavily endorsed candidate, Barron Burmaster.
I declined. Yeah, I’m kinda stubborn that way.
Hours after Petit came in third in the four-horse race, he endorsed Burmaster.
“I'm not a fan of the (political) machine, but I am a fan of Barron Burmaster," said Petit, a Metairie lawyer.
Nothing really unusual here. There were two candidates left and Stephen choose the one with the biggest bandwagon.
In the Spring of 2014, Petit attended my campaign kickoff party when I ran for Kenner Mayor.
Stephen even brought food to the party – food that he cooked – and it was good too.
In the Fall of 2014, Petit ran again for 1st Parish Court Judge.
Again, I supported Stephen and campaigned for him. This time, I did a little more, gathering volunteers to canvass neighborhoods for him. Many of the volunteers had never heard of Stephen, or hadn’t heard anything good about him, but walked door-to-door because I asked them to.
When I picked up literature from Stephen to distribute to volunteers, our conversation turned to the Mayoral campaign. Stephen was actually defending Mike Yenni and Jefferson Parish’s favorite crook, Greg Buisson.
I felt something in my stomach.
Had the Buisson Machine turned Stephen? Why am I going out of my way to help someone who may have sold out?
After his second defeat, Petit again endorsed the machine candidate, Johnny Lee.
Another "Machine" candidate? I'm sensing a pattern here.
This past fall, during Mike Yenni’s campaign for Parish President, Petit was a strong supporter of Yenni on social media, even attempting to joust with me, a choice he quickly reconsidered.
I was surprised when Petit was named Kenner’s Code Enforcement Director. Code also includes building inspections and Petit has no experience with code or inspections. He was primarily a Family Law attorney.
But, the pieces were falling into place.
Stephen Petit had sold out.
Which is fine, as long as you admit it and can live with it.
Kenner, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana and places all over are littered with people who have sold out.
And, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of your family. Of course, it’s not the way I would do it but it’s his life.
But, when you are a political appointee and your paycheck comes from City of Kenner tax dollars, there are strings attached.
In 2012, partially in response to Mike Yenni forcing Kenner political appointees to campaign for Ben Zahn in Lil Ben's campaign for Parish Council ("A Booster Chair for Everyone That Needs One"), the voters of Kenner by a 70-30% margin approved a Charter Change that was designed to eliminate the political activity of appointees.
"The nonelected employees in the employment of the City of Kenner shall not participate in any political activity on behalf of any city candidate in the City of Kenner elections."
Yenni used that specificity in his claims that his political appointees COULD assist him in his Parish President campaign, since it wasn’t a “city election”.
But, the spirit and intent of the Charter Change was that Kenner voters didn’t want political appointees engaged in ANY political activity, including endorsement groups, party politics, or campaigns.
If City of Kenner employees cannot participate in political activity, their appointed bosses should not either.
Now, along comes political appointee Stephen Petit trying to push the envelope in his campaign for more power (and another Yenni/Buisson mouthpiece) by running for the Republican State Central Committee (SCC) and the Jefferson Parish Republican Executive Committee (RPEC).
One of the primary roles of both organizations is to endorse candidates.
Obviously, Petit isn’t interested in election to these groups so that he can follow the Charter and recuse himself from endorsing candidates running in Kenner elections.
No, Petit is seeking to payback Yenni (and Buisson).
As I said, when I met Stephen, I liked him. But, the Machine got to him and he had no problem selling out.
Now, if Petit has one ounce of integrity, he will remove himself from the ballot for the SCC and the RPEC and discontinue his association in any other political group that endorses candidates. As long as you are receiving a paycheck from Kenner taxpayers, you should act according to the spirit and intent of the Charter instead of thumbing your nose at it (Kenner residents already had 5 years of that with Yenni and now his "Consensus Team" on the Council).
But, I’m not holding my breath.
You shouldn't either.
Once you’ve sold your soul to the devil Buisson, it takes a really strong person to break away.
So Stephen, what kind of person are you? The one I met three years ago that cared about kids and doing the right the thing or just another sell-out?