Joe Lopinto defeats John Fortunato in race for Jefferson Parish sheriff

METAIRIE, La. -- Interim Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto has defeated John Fortunato and will remain the sheriff.

Lopinto won with 52 percent, or 42,467 votes.

It's only the third sheriff Jefferson Parish has elected since 1980. Harry Lee served as sheriff from then until his death in 2007. Newell Normand was elected for the first time the same year.

Lopinto, 41, is an attorney and former state representative who served as JPSO’s chief of operations and chief criminal deputy before he became interim sheriff.

“Seven months ago, the citizens of Jefferson Parish didn’t know who I was, but Newell Normand did … We’re going to go back to work on Monday and do what we have to do to make sure the rest of Jefferson Parish knows who I am … We’re just beginning, y’all.”

Fortunato, 66, a former spokesman for JPSO, retired in September 2017 after 46 years with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office so he could challenge Lopinto for the top law enforcement job in the parish.

Normand stepped down in August and appointed Lopinto as interim sheriff. He also threw his full support behind Lopinto.

"We really ran a good, clean race," Fortunato said after his defeat. "We tried the very best that we could to prove to the people of Jefferson Parish that we thought we had the best plan ... I can't begin to say thank you enough to everybody."

When Fortunato announced he was running, he said he was doing it because "I just don't believe that we have to accept a politician's hand-picked candidate to serve as sheriff."

The race was a heated one, and polls showed the two candidates neck and neck just days before election day.

Both candidates attacked each other's experience in law enforcement. Fortunato said his 46 years of working his way up the ranks at JPSO gave him the front-line "street cop" experience needed to lead the agency, while Lopinto points to the host of other responsibilities a sheriff has, like managing a large staff and collecting taxes.