Robottom re-elected, eyes better rapports; Becnel cites race in loss

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

LAPLACE — Natalie Robottom credited “integrity” and “dignity” as prevailing themes in her campaign and promised a better relationship with Parish Council members going forward when speaking in the aftermath of her general election victory in the race for St. John the Baptist Parish President.

Danny Becnel

Danny Becnel

Robottom, the incumbent, came out victorious Saturday night, topping a heated challenge from longtime trial lawyer and local businessman Danny Becnel.

Robottom finished Saturday with 9,037 (55.33 percent) votes, compared to Becnel’s 7,297 votes.

“I’m excited,” Robottom said Saturday night in the aftermath of her campaign victory. “We are looking forward to bigger and better things for St. John. My first reaction is always, ‘are you sure?’ I wasn’t actually in the room with my team that got all of the numbers when I heard a loud yell. With integrity and dignity, we prevailed.”

Robottom’s final tally this weekend capped a significant surge following her showing Oct. 24 in the primary election, where she finished second to Becnel — 4,549 votes to 4,689 votes — in a field of six candidates.

Becnel picked up the endorsements of third- and fourth-place primary finishers Charles Julien and Kent St. Amant but ran into trouble late in the election process when Robottom’s camp released a recording Friday they said included Becnel’s “racist rant, including his analysis of white and black voter turnout and a blatant threat of ‘taking our parish back.’”

The recording was sent out in a release by Robottom and could not be independently verified by L’OBSERVATEUR staff. Becnel claimed the recording was spliced together and his statements were taken out of context.

However, Robottom stressed the recording included Becnel boasting of strong attendance at an event he hosted, then stating, “white people are outvoting black people, unbelievably and we (sic) taking our parish back.”

On Monday, Becnel issued a release attributing his election loss to the work of the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who worked for Robottom, advising people he was going to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by David Vitter.

“Natalie Robottom made her intentions known that she was going to run for Congress,” Becnel said. “Jackie Hotard was promised their support to run for Parish President. This made it impossible for me to win due to the fact that they got over 3,000 additional voters, almost all of whom were black, to join on to this program. They also spent $70,000 on Election Day paying people to vote.”

Becnel told L’OBSERVATEUR Sunday he went into Election Day assuming he would win, adding he was OK with the loss because the many cases his law firm was handling would keep him busy.

“The only reason I did this was because the water system doesn’t work, the sewage system doesn’t work and we have no levee and no drainage,” he said.

When asked if he was going to remain a voice in the community, he said, “I’m going to be a lawyer.”

Following her election victory, Robottom struck a positive tone with a fresh outlook to the future.

“Throughout the election, I think the (Parish) Council members and I and a lot of the other elected officials got closer,” she said. “We had the opportunity to look back at some issues. What came out of this was that we need to be communicating more and understand where each other is coming from more.

“Sometimes I’m thinking 10 years out and sometimes I need to look a little closer at some of the things that are right in front of me. All of us are committed to working together in the best interest of the Parish. Before the primary we, the Council and I, started some conversations and had some real good dialogue. We made some apologies, a commitment to work together to make sure we continue to progress. We want the same thing, which is to serve our residents.”

Robottom said one of the most important things to focus on as she looks to a new year and term is securing levee protection.

“I just had a conversation with U.S. Rep. (Garret) Graves, (R-Baton Rouge), who is on the committee that actually funds levees,” Robottom said. “We are applying for something called the Resilience Grant.”

The Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office said voter turnout in St. John the Baptist Parish represented 55.5 percent of eligible voters. All election results will be certified Dec. 3.

— By Raquel Derganz Baker