JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Interim Sheriff Joe Lopinto said he has accepted the resignation of the long-time spokesman for the department, who plans to run against him. Col. John Fortunato said he is not resigning but retiring - noting the distinction. Two other high-profile candidates are also pondering a run.
Col. John Fortunato has served in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office since Richard Nixon was president, and now he's moving on.
"I'm here to visit with family and friends for the last 46-plus years, and return some of the property that belongs to the Sheriff's Office," said former JPSO spokesman Fortunato.
Fortunato watched two sheriffs handpick their successors, and decided it was time for him to make a move.
"I don't think we are ready to accept a politician's hand-picked sheriff," he said. "I'm going to leave it at that."
Lopinto had his own opinion.
"I was chosen by the sheriff for having the best ability to run this department for seven months, but I don't make any bones about it," Lopinto said.
Fortunato's departure sets the stage for a showdown with Lopinto, who was appointed two months ago. Former Parish President John Young and current parish Chief Operating Officer Keith Conley are both considering runs for sheriff.
"I'm the only person who's served in all branches. This is big - 1,500 employees with a $125 million budget," Lopinto said. "It's not just about calls for service."
After serving with the Sheriff's Office since 1971, being shot in the line of duty and rising to the rank of colonel, Fortunato said he's prepared for the next chapter.
"I think the time has come, and I want to fulfill the dream I had," Fortunato said.
Fortunato said he will make a formal announcement later.
Qualifying is in January, and the sheriff's primary will be March 24.