Former judge and retired postal worker vie for Jefferson Parish Council District 1 seat

By Chad Calder

Source: The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

September 24, 2019

The race to replace Ricky Templet in the Jefferson Parish Council’s District 1 seat is between two candidates who would be new to parish government, though only one could be considered a political outsider.

Retired postal worker Sheldon Vincent Sr., 60, is making his second bid for elected office following an unsuccessful run last year for the School Board, while Marion Edwards, 78, spent 26 years as an assistant district attorney in Jefferson and 16 years as a state district and appeals court judge.

Vincent is a Republican; Edwards is a Democrat.

The Oct. 12 ballot will also include Emmette Dumesnil III. He said he is not seeking the seat because of a family illness but was not able to formally withdraw from the race before the deadline.

According to campaign finance reports, Edwards raised $219,375 and spent $80,680 in the most recent reporting period. Vincent has raised and spent $230. Edwards has wrapped up the bulk of the endorsements.

One thing both candidates have in common is a pledge to be quick studies if elected, which they will need due to their newcomer status. In a recent questionnaire distributed by the Bureau of Governmental Research, Edwards’ and Vincent’s answers to most of the policy questions included an admission they need to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of parish government.

District 1 is a west bank district that includes Gretna, Terrytown and the southern reaches of the parish that encompass Jean Lafitte and Grand Isle.

Templet is leaving the seat after eight years because of term limits; he was automatically elected to an at-large seat when his opponent was disqualified.

The district seat was long considered the likely next stop for Chris Roberts, who was to be term-limited out of his at-large council seat but stepped down in April after being indicted on federal income tax charges. Then Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner, who had been eyeing the seat, decided to run for the state House instead.

Edwards said he decided to run after Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson and Mayor Belinda Constant asked if he was interested. He had been traveling the state as an ad hoc judge and working to establish DUI courts since retiring in 2012, but he found the long travel days a burden.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought I needed something to do,” he said of a possible new role on the council.

Edwards moved to New Orleans from Monroe to attend Loyola Law School in 1964 and quickly became friends with Harry Lee, with whom he eventually started his legal practice. Lee later became Jefferson’s longtime sheriff.

The two worked on the campaign of H. Charles Gaudin, who would go on to become chief judge on the 24th Judicial District Court and state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, both of which are based in Gretna. Gaudin made Edwards the first law clerk at the 24th JDC, and he went on to spend 26 years as an assistant district attorney under the next two DAs, Frank Langridge and John Mamoulides.

Edwards said the most pressing issues facing District 1 are the loss of coastal wetlands and public safety. He also said he would focus on cutting wasteful spending where possible.

While law enforcement is handled by the Sheriff’s Office, Edwards said his experience in criminal justice will inform his judgment in areas that are related to the causes and consequences of crime, whether it’s blight or recreational opportunities for children.

“If we don’t pay attention to these kids at an early age, they are going to be in the criminal justice system,” he said. “I want to do what I can to prevent that.”

Vincent, who has owned and managed rental properties in Jefferson and Orleans Parish, said he would bring an outsider’s perspective to the office if elected and would focus on policy, not politics.

“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I’m honest and hard-working and I will be a watchdog for District 1.”

Vincent, who is also a U.S. Navy veteran, said he decided to run for the District 1 seat when he found out there was no incumbent, though he said he got a late start while dealing with health problems in his family.

Vincent said he dealt with crime and public safety often enough as a landlord to give him useful insights.

“I understand what are some of the reasons (people) get involved in some of those activities,” he said, citing the prevalence of poverty and single-parent families in the backgrounds of the young men who make up the bulk of the offenders.

Vincent ran with no party affiliation for the School Board last year but then decided to register as a Republican, which he said is more reflective of his political values. However, he said he has not gotten the support he believes he should from the local party establishment. Templet, though a Republican, has endorsed Edwards in the race.

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