Candidates line up in Sorrento races

The town of Sorrento will have a new mayor in July.

The town’s current mayor, Wilson Longanecker Jr., whose short tenure has been marred by an extended medical leave that left the mayor’s office vacant, infighting with the town’s council and controversy with the Police Department, did not qualify last week to seek re-election on the April 6 ballot.

Three men, including the mayor’s father and a former interim mayor, are seeking the office.

Wilson Longanecker Sr., a two-term mayor from 1989-97, will face off against Jason Adams, a town councilman who served as interim mayor in May and June 2011, and Mike Lambert, a former chief of the Sorrento Fire Department.

All three of the candidates said part of the reason they were drawn into the race was because they didn’t like the status quo.

“Like many residents, I’m just plain tired of what has happened in Sorrento over the past several years,” said Lambert, 53, who can trace his family’s political roots back to the original Town Council where his father served. “We’re just tired and embarrassed.”

The elder Longanecker, 73, cited “all of the uprising that’s been taking place the past four years” as the reason he entered the race. He listed mayoral and council resignations, as well as problems with the town’s fire and police departments.

Adams, 38, meanwhile, said he was embarrassed by the direction the town had taken in recent months. It’s why he ran to serve on the council and also why he’s seeking to be mayor.

Longanecker Jr. took office in June 2011 after winning a hotly contested special election against Councilman Randy Anny by one vote. Anny originally challenged the results of Longanecker’s eight-vote victory, leading to a court-ordered revote of eight ballots, one of which was thrown out.

Many in the town thought Anny, the council’s mayor pro tem who served as interim mayor last year during Longanecker Jr.’s six-month medical leave, would again seek the mayor’s office. Instead, Anny is one of nine candidates for five seats on the Town Council.

Joining him in that pool are current council members Marvin Martin, Milton “Needlenose” Vicknair and John Wright; Longanecker Jr., a town council member before he became mayor; and Ivan Bernuchaux Jr., Wanda LeBlanc Bourgeois, Patti Melancon Poche and Don Schexnaydre.

In the town’s third election on the April 6 ballot, embattled Police Chief Earl Theriot is seeking re-election to his fourth term in office. Theriot, 64, has been at odds in recent months with both council members and residents, and his department has seen a rash of departures through firings and resignations.

Jay LeBlanc, a 30-year-old volunteer firefighter in Sorrento and deputy with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office, has challenged Theriot for the town’s police chief position. He said he grew up in Sorrento and moved back home about a year ago, and he believes he can be a positive force for his hometown’s Police Department.

“I think Sorrento has a lot more potential than it has now,” LeBlanc said.

Longanecker Sr. said he didn’t converse with his son before deciding to run. Instead, he heard from someone else that the current mayor wouldn’t run for re-election.

“I thought, shucks, I can’t leave the community the way it is,” he said.

Longanecker Jr. cited a desire to spend more time with his family, as well as growing responsibilities at his job, as his reasons for not seeking re-election.

“I feel I can serve Sorrento better as a councilman at the moment,” he said.

Longanecker Sr. said he’d like to see the town apply for more grants for the police and fire departments, more programs and senior citizens, a recreation program for youth and a library in the town.

“The whole community needs to move forward and attract new businesses in the interstate area,” he said.

Lambert said he wasn’t running because of any political agenda, nor does he offer a “magical solution,” though he did say residents deserve to see their quality of life improved in the town. Rather, he said, he’s running “just to benefit Sorrento.”

“That’s where my heart is,” he said. “If we can change the image of Sorrento and make it a place that is business-friendly where businesses want to locate in Sorrento, that creates opportunities for people here in Sorrento to economically better themselves. ... I think Sorrento has missed so many opportunities the past couple of years to make the town better. That’s what I want to do.”