JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - In a little over a month, early voting begins for the Jefferson Parish sheriff's race. Residents will choose between Joe Lopinto, who became sheriff last year after then Sheriff Newell Normand retired and named Lopinto his successor, and former longtime JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato.
"Hello, I'm Sheriff Joe Lopinto. I'm running for sheriff for one simple reason: because the right experience matters," a Lopinto campaign ad states.
"Over 40 years ago putting on this uniform for the first time was one of the proudest days of my life. I've served under three sheriffs, was shot in the line of duty," says an add by Fortunato.
Both believe they are best suited to keep residents safe. The election day is March 24.
"I think the citizens of Jefferson Parish will look at me and look at my qualification and elect me to the future," said Lopinto.
I don't think the people of Jefferson Parish, like I've said from day one, are ready to accept a politician's hand-picked sheriff," said Fortunato.
Campaign finance reports for the 90th day prior to the election show Lopinto's campaign had total receipts of $470,688.89, disbursements of $311,550.66 and funds on hand at the close of the reporting period of $529,057.36.
Fortunato had total contributions of $269, 001.64, disbursements of $112, 691.54 and $149, 788.07 on hand at the close of the reporting period.
"The early momentum with regard to polling and name recognition went to Fortunato, but the early momentum with fundraising goes to Joe Lopinto…The next fundraising reporting period is going to tell us a lot about who has the war chest going into the final 30 days," said FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman.
Both think the momentum is with them as the race is expected to intensify after Mardi Gras.
Lopinto joined the JPSO in 1997, remained for seven years, then earned a law degree and later returned.
Fortunato left the sheriff's office last year to enter the sheriff's race.
"I was a police officer on the street longer than Mr. Fortunato. Mr. Fortunato has been an employee of the sheriff's office for 40 years and a good employee of the sheriff's office for 40 years," Lopinto said. "That's not to take anything away from him, but the job of the sheriff is not to show up on a murder scene and give the two-paragraph press release. The job of the sheriff is to review the contracts, the memorandums, the budgets, the lawsuits that come to this office on an everyday basis. We collect $800 million of taxes that we have to distribute."
"I've sat in meetings with our tax collector. Discussed situations that when we prepared news releases that I had to know what we were talking about, issues that may have come up that the media may question, the public may question. You know, with a $128 million operating budget, I'm ready to accept the fact that I know that the majority of our budget is used for salary and personnel but I'm also smart enough to know there are federal grants out there that I look forward to working with my staff to make sure that we can procure," said Fortunato.
"Whether it's going to school at night, on weekends, being the policeman out there on the street, but also being the legislator, I've never shied away from hard work, and I believe the people of Jefferson Parish are noticing that. You have people that want to contribute to my campaign," said Lopinto.
"I went from a cadet, to deputy, to a detective, to a sergeant, to a lieutenant, to a captain, to a major and then to a colonel, which is the position I had when I decided to run for sheriff. My opponent doesn't have those same qualifications. He hasn't been through the ranks of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. This is not a coronation, it's an election," Fortunato said.