KENNER, La. -- The leader of an effort to recall Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni over Yenni’s sexting scandal is throwing in the towel.
Attorney Robert Evans III announced he was ceasing operations at the Recall Yenni campaign as of Friday, about three weeks short of a six-month deadline to collect more than 90,000 signatures from registered voters in Jefferson Parish, the number required by law to force a measure on the ballot to remove Yenni from office.
Evans said he "did the math" and realized the 55,000 signatures Recall Yenni had collected to date would not be nearly enough.
"This was a tremendous effort by a lot of people and we spent the resources that we committed to spend and we did all the efforts we could think of to do," Evans told WWL-TV in an interview. "We did direct mailers, we did pop-ups, we did malls, door-to-door, everything we could think of to do we tried to do, and we obtained probably more signatures than anyone has gotten in a recall."
Yenni has issued recorded or written statements in place of regular public appearances since the scandal broke. The entire parish council, several municipal councils and most other elected officials have called on him to resign. And Yenni was banned from visiting public schools and from visiting or working with children at Catholic churches and schools. But he has steadfastly refused to step down and maintained he has not been deterred from his official duties.
"I have never let the recall effort nor any politically-orchestrated campaigns against me distract me from doing the job I was elected to do," Yenni said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. "We are continuing to fulfill goals and look toward the future of Jefferson. I am obviously pleased the recall chapter is closed, but truly the news doesn't impact how I will continue to govern."
The signature drive stalled in recent months after an initial push collected tens of thousands in the initial days of Recall Yenni's existence, right after WWL-TV broke the story of Yenni’s sexually explicit texts to a 17-year-old boy and the teen’s allegations that Yenni, then the mayor of Kenner and running for parish president, bought him designer underwear and kissed him in a mall bathroom.
Recall Yenni organizers said they collected about 30,000 signatures in the first month.
Evans said he spent $120,000 on the campaign. Campaign finance records filed with the state Ethics Board indicate that Evans' law firm loaned the Recall Yenni campaign $114,000. It spent $95,000 of that in the first month on television, radio and newspaper ads, consulting services and petition documents. From November through Feb. 14, Recall Yenni spent another $7,000 on direct mail and other services and relied on dozens of volunteers for a door-to-door effort.
Evans thanked the volunteers, but said he didn't get the financial support he was hoping for.
"I did anticipate or believe I would get support along the way and I had many promises along the way of people to help or reimburse," he said. "But no, I did it (and) I was able to do it."
He said he would spend the money again if he needed to, although some controversy followed him during the last six months. He said he was forced out of his law offices after he launched the recall effort. And he got a visit from the FBI when he sent a text to Yenni threatening to release copies of Yenni's texts with the teen if Yenni didn't immediately resign. Evans admitted he did not even have copies of those texts, which the teen -- now 19-year-old Alex Daigle -- provided to WWL-TV on condition that they not be released or quoted directly.
Evans said he was glad to see a movement in the State Legislature to change the recall law, which requires a third of all registered voters in a district to sign a petition to get a recall question on the election ballot. With about 270,000 names on Jefferson Parish voter rolls, that meant Recall Yenni would have needed more signatures than the total votes cast in the 2015 election for all parish president candidates and nearly twice the number of votes Yenni got to win.
"We got more signatures on the recall than he got in votes to get elected, so that says something," Evans said.