St. Gabriel candidates sign up for Apr. 2 primary

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

The Rev. Lionel Johnson Jr., a former city councilman and former principal of East Iberville School, qualified last week to run against four-term incumbent Mayor George L. Grace Sr. in the City of St Gabriel's April 2 primary elections.

Incumbent Police Chief Kevin “Butchie” Ambeau again is facing a new challenge from former chief Patrick Nelson Sr.

The five incumbent City Council members will face eight challengers. The field includes incumbents Deborah “Debbie” Alexander, Flora Jean Danielfield, Freddie Carl Frazier Sr., Melvin Hasten Sr. and Ralph “Big Guy” Johnson Sr., and challengers Joseph Allen Jr. Juan Vashion Darville, Isiah gilmore Sr., Keith “Lil Pest” Gordon, Kyle E. Grace, Kenya L. Nelson, Lourienzo “Rock” Robinson Sr. and James Snelson.

Grace, the only man who has served as mayor since St. Gabriel was incorporated in 1994, is under federal indictment and facing trial next year. He has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of racketeering, bribery, extortion, obstruction of justice and fraud charges in connection with an FBI sting operation.

In the city's last elections, in 2007, Grace beat Johnson's father Lionel Johnson Sr. and two other challengers, taking nearly 53 percent of the vote in the run-off election against the elder Johnson. Lionel Johnson Jr. lost a bid for a council seat that year.

Ambeau faced a field of four challengers, including Nelson, in the 2007 race. He narrowly lost a first-primary victory with 49.89 percent of the vote, and won against Nelson with just over 56 percent.

Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards appointed Ambeau as St. Gabriel's first police chief in 1994, but Nelson won the municipality's first two elections.

Ambeau defeated Nelson in 2003, just after Nelson's conviction on a misdemeanor theft charge. Nelson was accused of stealing $116.50 from a video poker machine at a local daiquiri parlor.

Currently, the Louisiana Board of Ethics is investigating whether Ambeau might have violating state ethics law by operating a private security business in St. Gabriel while serving as chief of police.

The investigation is confidential, and no other information was available. Ambeau's attorney, Edward A. “Lucky” Songy Jr., successfully sued the board to gain access to the files for the police chief.