GRETNA -- Former state Rep. Joe Lopinto will, at least on an interim basis, helm the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office once Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand steps down Aug. 31 to take on a role as a host on WWL Radio.
And though the soft spoken married father of two will assume a high-profile role, he is far from a household name and will have six months to introduce himself to the citizens of the parish as possible political jockeying begins to replace Normand.
It won’t be much of a sell, those who know him say.
The son of a veteran New Orleans police officer, he was a JPSO deputy and detective for eight years while he put himself through law school at Loyola University. He later was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he represented the Metairie area and served as chairman of the Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice.
“It’s in his DNA -- law enforcement,” said Clancy DuBos, WWL-TV political analyst and Gambit columnist.
Lopinto announced last May he would resign from the Legislature, before his term was over, to take on a job as in-house counsel to the Sheriff’s Office, a post he held until recently when Normand named him chief deputy.
Speculation in political circles at the time of Lopinto's departure from the Legislature was that Normand was grooming him has his hand-picked successor.
During his time in Baton Rouge, Lopinto, a Republican, developed a reputation as a hard worker but was ousted from his chairmanship since he crossed party lines to endorse John Bel Edwards for governor and voted for Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, to be the House speaker.
State Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, described Lopinto as “practical” during his time in the Legislature.
“He was one of four people I thought were really going to make a difference when his class took over,” said Martiny, who is seeking a seat on the Jefferson Parish council.
Martiny described Lopinto as “an up and comer” whose low-key demeanor disguises an effective leader.
Since Normand is retiring, state statute dictates his number two step in as an interim sheriff. An election will be held next spring.
DuBos said it’s unlikely a large field will challenge Lopinto once the campaign for sheriff starts, thanks largely to Normand’s support. “We’ll know in the next couple of weeks.”
Normand, for his part, wasn’t known much outside of the JPSO before he was named interim sheriff after Harry Lee’s death in October 2007, but that did little to hinder his chances at landing the job permanently -- also thanks to Lee’s endorsement before he died.
Normand was swept into office with 91 percent of the vote in November 2007 and won reelection in 2011 with 92 percent of the vote and 88 percent in 2015.
Having only learned Sunday that Normand was retiring and he would replace him, Lopinto said he’s not yet focused on a campaign but will seek the job on a permanent basis.
“The citizens of Jefferson Parish will have to look at me and my resume and determine who they think is the best person,” he said. “I know during the interim I have a job to do.”