Campaign turns ugly: St. John judge candidates give takes on series of flyers

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, November 2, 2016

LAPLACE — “Trash,” “foolishness” and “negative” are how candidates for judge in St. John the Baptist Parish are describing a race, that in its worst moments, has devolved into a tawdry display of finger-pointing flyers.

With early voting concluded, residents will give their final word Tuesday on who should fill the unexpired term of 40th Judicial District Court Division B Judge Mary Hotard Becnel, who is retiring at the end of the year.

The race started three months ago with failed election challenges from candidate Rob Snyder Jr., who questioned the residencies of fellow candidates Nghana Lewis Gauff and Jeff Perilloux.

When all three were certified, St. John Parish residents had an honest-to-goodness choice to make between three experienced candidates.

According to the candidates, it didn’t stay that way.

An unsourced and unsigned mailer was distributed throughout the parish questioning “The Secret Double Life of Rob Snyder.”

“It was a baseless, anonymous attack and I think the voters saw it as trash,” Snyder said. “Then I discovered some similarities between a previous flyer mailed out by one of my opponents and I showed that to the voters and I’m going to go ahead and let them decide what’s the trash and what’s the truth.”

Snyder said a judicial candidate is allowed to defend himself, prompting him to respond with a flyer targeting Perilloux, who has a previous DWI arrest.

“What the voters don’t know is that this other opponent has also filed for sanctions against me during the objection to candidacy proceedings, which was an unresolved issue of law,” Snyder said. “This other opponent has also filed a judicial complaint against me during this campaign even though he says he had no involvement in any of these dirty politics.”

Perilloux stressed repeatedly with L’OBSERVATEUR that he and his campaign had nothing to do with the negative mailers.

“I made a pledge in the beginning of this campaign that we would stay positive and I am proud to say we have,” Perilloux said. “One of my opponents has been particularly negative to me throughout this campaign, and I have resisted in responding in terms of being negative toward him.

“Let’s be perfectly frank, I had a DWI six years ago that was embarrassing for me, but we dealt with that issue early in this campaign and I have personally dealt with that issue and am proud of the way I have handled that issue. I don’t think the people are going to judge Jeff Perilloux based on his worst mistake that happened to be caught on video. I think when people look at my entire record, the residents here in St. John know who I am, know what I am capable of doing and really believe they understand, for me, this community comes first.”

Gauff, who also emphatically denied any participation in negative campaigning, said the whole incident is very unfortunate, adding those who run for public office need to be able to tell the public and, particularly, young people, that they have modeled the very ethics they expect to bring to public office.

“I don’t live in a glass house; I don’t know of anyone who does,” Gauff said. “I think our community’s best interests are served when we elect public officials whose focus is on service, not slander.”

She said the issue was particularly upsetting for parents with children who read, pay attention and make routine trips to the mailbox, thus bringing the negative campaigning to the forefront of family life.

This fall’s special election is necessary as Becnel is retiring, in part, to spend more time with her husband, Daniel Becnel Jr., who became ill late last year. Her last day as judge is Dec. 31.

The election is Tuesday, and a runoff, if needed, is scheduled Dec. 10.