Political newcomer wins historic election
First African-American in 140 years to win parishwide seat
Jarvis Lewis (right), who won Saturday’s election for the St. Charles Parish Council’s at-large Division B seat, stands in front of the St. Charles Parish Courthouse with his campaign manager, Leslie Carter.
Lewis garnered 3,590 votes while his opponent, District VII Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier, had 3,465 votes. The election was close throughout the night as Lewis led Fisher-Perrier by six votes with all but three of the parish’s 44 precincts reported.
However, those three precincts turned out to be in Lewis’ favor as he finished with 51 percent of the vote.
An African-American candidate had not been elected to a parishwide office in St. Charles Parish since former slave and Union Civil War soldier George Essex served six years from 1872 to 1878 as St. Charles Parish sheriff.
The 24-year-old Lewis said he believes his successful candidacy is a sign of changing times.
“It is clearly a lot of historical significance. A lot of people see that as a sign of change,” Lewis said. “Remove race from the equation and you get a lot of younger officials elected. People really appreciate that, they like to see the younger generation get involved in what’s going on.”
Lewis said his victory signals that St. Charles Parish has moved beyond race when considering their elected leaders. “I think people really looked at credentials and the ability to provide new ideas. Everybody wants to see what’s the next big idea. We want to ensure that the parish continues moving forward,” he said.
The odds seemed stacked against Lewis when he first announced he was running for the seat. The first-time candidate had only recently graduated from Xavier University with a degree in political science.
“The first thing a lot of people said was ‘man, you’ve got a tough hill to climb.’ But when you want a job, you’ve got to work for it,” Lewis said. “I set out to work for it and did the best I could and people appreciated it, from what I hear.”
Despite his age, Lewis has assisted in several political campaigns in the past and was a member of the parish’s Library Board. He also worked as an assistant deputy assessor under St. Charles Parish Assessor Tab Troxler before resigning to run for office.
Lewis said despite his relative lack of experience, he had been attending or watching council meetings for the past six or seven years. Due to those experiences he felt comfortable with the issues at hand.
“A lot of people talk about inexperience or who has the experience and they forget that everyone was inexperienced at one time,” he said. “Everybody had to start new at one time, nobody ever jumped into it knowing what was going on.”
Lewis is also grateful for the help he received from veteran campaign manager Leslie Carter, who successfully helped former Councilman Curtis Johnson get elected in the 1990s. In the end though, Lewis said it came down to finding voters who believed in him as a candidate.
“I don’t think anybody went out against a candidate, I think people went out to support a candidate,” Lewis said. “Thanks to everyone who went out and voted because that is one of the things I want to do now as councilman at-large, I want to ensure that people feel compelled to go out and feel civically engaged,” Lewis said. “I am going to engage people, but I also want to know they are excited to go out and vote.”
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