|Photo illustration by Robin May and Kevin Pontiff|
|Photo by Robin May|
|Photo by Robin May|
|Jim Gondron’s beef with Charlie Langlinais goes back beyond 2002 when he lost a close race to unseat the incumbent mayor.|
|Langlinais isn’t shy about using his job as mayor to promote his real estate business.|
|Langlinais says the Ambassador extension and Albertson Parkway
are part of a growth master plan he envisioned 20 years ago.
Three hundred yards northeast of the Langlinais home, which faces La. 82 leading into Broussard, Jim Gondron sits in a recliner in what is his de facto campaign headquarters — a dark, musky den in his home filled floor to ceiling with the marble-eyed emanations of his hobby, taxidermy, and boxes of the campaign brochures he has been passing out to residents in a door-to-door campaign that, in a Louisiana August, would test the most virile politician. It’s a thankful, rainy morning, and if the clouds break, he’ll head out into the steam to bring his message of responsible growth and improving services in Broussard. Gondron is nothing if not determined to beat Charlie Langlinais.
“I ran a good, clean race eight years ago, and I feel 10 times better this time,” he says of his political fortunes come October. Nine out of 10 residents are with him, Gondron says, and this time around, Langlinais will get more than a run for his money. “He better buy votes or go to the graveyard for votes,” Gondron boasts. “Everyday, I’m getting people that want him out. It’s unbelievable.”
With a wad of Skoal tucked into his lower lip and a Campbell’s Soup can doubling as spittoon, Gondron seethes about his opponent, an aspersion always near at hand: “I’ve known him all my life; my ethics and morals are completely different than his — night and day.”
Bad blood or not, Gondron is running on a campaign to improve water quality and drainage in Broussard, to build more parks, increase fire and police protection, make government more transparent and to improve relations with neighboring communities, an unsubtle reference to the land battles that have erupted in council chambers and court rooms among Broussard, Lafayette and Youngsville over annexations.
Last year the Gondrons — wife Becky is the town clerk in Youngsville — sent an envelope of photos and other documentation to the state Ethics Administration purporting to prove that Langlinais had used city services for tree-cutting and a bridge replacement on his private property, which adjoins their spread to the rear.
The would-be mayor references those jobs and other perceived (and real?) slights obliquely in campaign literature he passes out to prospective supporters: “Situations where approximately $70,000 have been spent on private property to enhance and facilitate a personal endeavor and tagged as a city project will not occur on my watch. A private citizen should not have to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees in an effort to preserve and protect their property and privacy from this type of incident which disrupted lives and violated all that had been worked for over the years.”
The Gondrons and other anonymous sources also accuse Langlinais of intimidating city employees into spending their Fridays canvassing neighborhoods for his re-election campaign, a charge Langlinais flatly dismisses.
“I’m not making anybody canvas or campaign on their time off; it’s really a voluntary effort,” Langlinais says. “What I know he’s saying is they’re doing it on city time. Friday is their day off.”
Langlinais instituted a four-day, 10-hour per day work week a couple of years ago, initially as a cost-cutting measure. But he says it’s proven to be more efficient and city employees love it. That, he says, may account for their inclination to knock on some doors on his behalf. “They’re lucky. Let’s face it, if you worked only four days a week, 10-hour days, wouldn’t you like to work for those people?
Think about it. Ideally. Most of my guys are in construction, so they’re tickled pink. There’s some people that work for us for that reason alone — because they got a three-day weekend every weekend.”
“They’re happy with their job; they get paid well for what they do,” he adds. “I’ve got very, very talented people, and nobody’s forced or even asked [to campaign]. If they don’t want to do it that’s fine. I got no problem with that.”
That’s not to say Langlinais has always been on the proverbial up-and-up as mayor. In February 2000 he was stung by a legislative auditor’s report finding that he and the then-street supervisor had received private services from a town vendor, purchased top soil from the town pit and had access to un-metered town water service. The audit led to charges against Langlinais by the ethics board, which, after an investigation, fined him $250. (Langlinais faced up to a $10,000 fine, but citing his cooperation in the investigation, the board reduced the fine to a slap on the wrist.)
“How he got out of that, I don’t know,” chuckles former Mayor Leroy Miguez, whom Langlinais defeated in 1990 to win his first term.
For some, like the Gondrons, Langlinais will never live it down.
“It’s like his attitude is, I’m going to do what I want to do and nobody get in the way,” Becky Gondron says of Langlinais. “He doesn’t care who he steps on.”
The Gondrons say they got the run-around from the ethics board, which punted the case to the state attorney general’s office, which in turn lost track of the evidence.
“I talked to one guy [at the attorney general’s office] who told me, ‘O, you’re going to have to vote him out of office,’” Becky Gondron says. “He kind of made a joke out of it.”
Jim Gondron reserves his ire for the ethics board: “They ain’t been doing jack shit over there for years; they’re the ones who need to be investigated.”
Charlie Langlinais, meanwhile, goes about the business of growing Broussard into a commercial powerhouse, realizing a master plan he says he envisioned two decades ago.
“Albertson Parkway, Caffery, are all part of a strategy that I developed,” he says with ready pride. “It was all part of an economic development plan that I visualized 20 years ago. I kind of figured out what would be our most opportune development areas, and we put infrastructure based on that.”
Langlinais doesn’t shy away from using his job title as a promotional tool either. An ad on the website broussardlarealty.com bears a photo of the mayor with the quote, “My knowledge of where Broussard has been & where it’s going can ensure your development is in the right place at the right time.” It’s signed, “Charles Langlinais, Mayor of Broussard.”
Langlinais’ predecessor, Miguez, attributes Langlinais’ success in part to taking office on the back end of the oil bust — a rebound was inevitable. Miguez says monthly sales tax collection dipped to as low as $18,000 toward the late ’80s, forcing layoffs of town employees; now sales taxes fill city coffers to the tune of $1 million per month. And Broussard’s city budget, which was about $600,000 annually when Langlinais was elected, has exploded to roughly $14 million.
Broussard’s population, too, has blossomed on Langlinais’ watch — from about 3,200 in 1990 to more than 8,000 today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Broussard has frequently led all cities in the state in the growth of both population and commercial development during Langlinais’ tenure.
“I had always said if the economy comes back, Broussard will be number one in the parish, and it happened that way,” says Miguez, who actually bested Langlinais in the three-man primary in 1990 but lost the runoff 51-49 percent. “He was in the right place at the right time.”
And he hasn’t looked back; Langlinais has won four re-election bids since unseating Miguez, and says he “feels better than I ever felt before” heading into the Oct. 2 election against Gondron.
It’s an attitude — not quite swagger but beyond confidence — that rubs some the wrong way. In fact, in 2002 Gondron beat Langlinais 45 to 42 percent in the October primary. (A third candidate, J.P. Morgan, came in a distant last with 13 percent of the vote, throwing his support to Gondron for the runoff.) But the incumbent won the runoff 53 to 47 percent.
“Actually I think I was behind by 30 votes in the primary, and I came back and beat him by about 160 votes or something like that,” Langlinais recalls. “But really what happened there was all my people stayed home [for the primary]. They said, ‘Well, Charlie’s got it made, there’s no reason to go vote.’ And so what we did was we phonne banked that second election.”
Four years later Langlinais easily bested Mark Ste. Marie, and he expects to do the same against his brother-in-law in October.
In fact, about the only thing Charlie Langlinais is sweating these days is whether Mother Nature will put the kibosh on his next fishing trip.
The world is a politically tense place these days with hot spots ranging from the Middle East to Ukraine. In Louisiana and Mississippi, where the political chessboard tends to be a lot less threatening and at times entertaining, this election season is living up to expectations.
As this year’s budget process slogs forward and the Lafayette Parish School Board maintains its hard-headed stance against using any of its more than $60 million reserve fund, another slate of critical programs have rolled through the chopping block, despite the ramifications for the school system.
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