Lee-Sheng: Personal losses gave me a strength to 'go for it' in Jefferson Parish race

Newell goes one-on-one with Jefferson Parish President-Elect Cynthia Lee-Sheng

Newell Normand
October 15, 2019 - 6:14 pm

The electoral dust has settled and it's a new day in Jefferson Parish. The race for Parish President has ended, and Cynthia Lee-Sheng stands victorious, collecting 56.77% of the vote, defeating John Young and Lee Bonnetcarrere to take the reins of Louisiana's most populous Parish. Newell describes Lee-Sheng as "a sister more than anything else" and invited her into the studio Tuesday morning to talk about her winning campaign.

"I think a lot of folks thought you had a shot of winning," Newell began. "A lot of the pundits and pollsters said you were right there on the cusp, and you come in with almost 57% of the vote and win every precinct but seven, out of 273. I've always studied election results and polls as kind of a hobby; you were dominant in every part of the Parish!"

"It's still unbelievable to me," Lee-Sheng replied. "We knew we were close going into election night, we thought we were within striking distance of actually pulling it off Saturday night, because our campaign was trying to avoid a runoff. Our tracking going in still showed 20% undecided. With three people in the race and 20% undecided, we knew there was a shot and we might be able to eke it through but we never thought what happened Saturday night would happen to us."

Newell asked Lee-Sheng about her experience being targeted early on in the campaign on the basis of her gender; she'd go on to become Jefferson Parish's first female President. Stewart Sheng, her husband of 15 years, died in 2014 at the age of 47 from a heart attack.

"It ended up being contentious and a little heated. Early on in the election, there were some letters sent out that made gender an issue, the fact that you're a young woman, a single mother who tragically lost her husband. He was a man I really knew and to know him was to love him... I was kind of struck by why someone would want to go down that path."

"I am a woman, and there was certainly an excitement that I could be the first woman elected President, but I certainly didn't make an issue of it. The attack on my experience didn't resonate well... I've been on the Council for ten years, a former CPA, a former Federal law enforcement officer. I've worked really hard my whole life and to be painted as inexperienced was kind of tough. But the great thing about this campaign is that it's a personal journey. I give it to my opponents - we're out there with a smile on our face but really, the campaign schedule is just grueling. The lack of sleep, the lack of eating properly, all the things you get behind on in your personal life... to everyone who puts themselves out there to do this, they get credit for that. The campaign trail can get ugly, but in the end, people are just attracted to public service and want to do good things. That's what we're all in it for."

"In my first election, I lost 16 pounds," Newell joked. "If you want to lose weight, qualify and go run for public office! The campaign had to be tough on your family too, it's always tough on the family. Whether its a clean election or a nasty one, it's still tough."

"Losing my husband has brought my children and I very close together," Lee-Sheng said. "We were always a close family, but when you go through a tragedy like that, you're just trying to survive life. When it came to running, the first permission I had to get was from them, and if they said 'Mom we don't want you to do this,' it would have been done and over with. But they didn't say that, they said go for it. It's hard for me to be at this stage in my life and not talk about the losses that I've had. It brings a strength to your life, a strength you wish you woudn't have but it gets you to a place where you think 'if I can get through that, this isn't that big of a deal.' Certainly that's the way I felt when I decided to run ten years ago after losing my Dad, getting into politics and losing a race didn't seem like a big deal. That's the journey of life this campaign was for me... I was going to be okay winning, and it's great to win, but I was going to be okay if I lost. I'm very grateful for the ten years I had serving Jefferson Parish, and I was going to do something completely different and that would have been exciting as well. The loss in my life gave me that outlook - the strength to really put it all on the campaign trail."

"A lot of times I've done things in my life where I felt your Dad's prescence... did you feel that too, and Stewart as well?"

"I felt their prescence so strongly on this campaign. Maybe it was just me drawing on their memory, but I did, I felt it very strongly. Not thinking they're wishing that I would win, but saying 'just go for it, give it your best shot.' When I say it was a personal journey, it really wrapped up all of those losses." 

Hear the entire interview in the player below.

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