Kenner mayor faces 2 challengers in April 5 election - | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Kenner mayor faces 2 challengers in April 5 election

Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni faces challengers Walt Bennetti and Al Morella in April 5th election. Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni faces challengers Walt Bennetti and Al Morella in April 5th election.

KENNER, LA (WVUE) - If you weren't aware that election day is right around the corner in Kenner, the myriad campaign signs should give you a strong hint.

Among the races on the April 5 ballot in the City of Kenner is the mayor's contest, which has three candidates. Incumbent Mayor Mike Yenni is seeking re-election. His goals are numerous.

"I'm going to continue fixing the sewerage system that we've been working very diligently to get back into compliance," said Yenni during an interview with FOX 8 News Wednesday afternoon.

Two grassroots candidates are hoping to block Yenni's re-election: Al Morella and Walt Bennetti, both of Kenner.

"We have a mayor that doesn't represent all of the people of Kenner," said Bennetti, a self-employed blogger whose resume also includes leadership of Citizens for a Better Kenner.

Bennetti said as mayor he would reduce the size of city government among other streamlining measures.

Yenni, Bennetti and Morella also list economic development as a major priority.

Yenni has a nearly $40 million "Kenner 2030" plan to redevelop major corridors in the city.

"It's not just putting flowers at the intersections, or trees and lighting, it's all about enhancing your city to get give Kenner a sense of place and those people who are going to invest money will see that the city has invested money in their corridors and will want to be a part of that," said Yenni.

"Our infrastructure does need upgrading, but is that going to stop the people from leaving and stop our businesses from leaving? Absolutely not," said Morella, a government watchdog and former member of the Kenner Housing Authority Board.

Bennetti fought unsuccessfully in court to block Kenner 2030.

"Because I thought that the people should have more input into the project and also that there should have been a public referendum on the plan itself," he said.

Blight is an issue being talked about often in Kenner's race for mayor, as well as the city council races.

All three mayoral candidates see it as a problem that needs more attention.

Mayor Yenni said code enforcement is being overhauled and the Code Enforcement Department is being revamped as part of his stepped-up attack on blight and other code violations.

"We're totally changing how we do code enforcement," he said. "We have a new director, we have a new assistant director. We are revamping the code department right now. The code department, it's a major economic engine for us because that's where people go to get their occupational licenses, that's where they go to get building permits, so we're going to make sure we use that department properly."

"We have a lot of blight and we need to tackle that blight in a more constructive, quicker manner, and we also need to tackle commercial blight. We have so many vacant storefronts and businesses that are empty," said Bennetti, a former member of the Kenner Code Advisory Committee. He said he stepped down to enter the mayor's race.

"I'm going to enforce the code enforcement rules across the board. There will be no more targeting - everything is focused on residential blight," stated Morella.

Morella insisted on doing the interview for this story next to a long-closed restaurant on Williams Boulevard.

"Look at this, if this had been a residence they would have been cited for having rotting fascia boards," said Morella.

"It's owned by Ochsner, they own that whole parcel of land, they have to decide what's going to go there. When the building has any problems with blight code [enforcement] goes out there and cites them if there's any issues with it. If there's not there's not much we can do about it, we cannot force a property owner to sell their property, they have to maintain that property and we'd love to get it back into commerce," said Yenni.

Yenni said fiscal restraints have pared down the number of employees, including those on the lookout for blighted properties.

"By door-knocking the neighborhoods like I've been doing, I've been coming across things that our road inspectors do miss because we've had to cut $8.5 million out of the budget and a 135 jobs. We had almost 12 road inspectors now we have five, so they can't see everything, so what I urge residents to do, if they know there's a house that's been abandoned in their neighborhood they've got to let us know," said Yenni.

The future of the Esplanade Mall is also a campaign talking point.

"We need to keep our city moving forward. The Esplanade Mall is withering away, we have a lot of commercial blight on Williams and on Airline Highway," stated Bennetti.

"We finally have a stadium theatre in the city of Kenner that's the first of its kind," Yenni stated about the new Grand Theatre built next to the mall.

Still, Yenni admits more stores are needed for the mall that took a serious hit in business after Katrina.

"We've got to do some things to get some more businesses at the Esplanade Mall," stated Yenni.

"We need to reinvigorate Kenner and we can do that," said Bennetti.

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