Q & A With New Parish President: Cynthia Lee Sheng

On October 12, 2019, Cynthia Lee Sheng made history when she became the first woman elected as Jefferson Parish President, avoiding a run-off by garnering 57 percent of the vote in a landslide victory. As President-Elect Lee Sheng continues to prepare for her first term beginning in January 2020, she took some time to speak with Jefferson Review about the spirited campaign and her plans for the parish once in office.

 

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When did the realization that you’re the Parish President finally set in? Election Night? Days later? Or will it not set in until January? I would say it set in a few days later. On election night, I was still running on the fumes of an 8-month campaign. The schedule was grueling, and I was determined to leave it all on the field on October 12 — so I think it was just pure exhaustion and adrenaline on election night. The realization probably set in within the next 2 weeks. I knew I wanted to change the organization chart. I believe our strength in Jefferson Parish government is our people, and I wanted to change the structure to better fit my leadership style. When I started using index cards to represent all of our departments and started moving them around to determine a new configuration . . . that’s when the realization kicked in and of course, the excitement as well.

As you prepare to take office, what’s currently “right” about Jefferson Parish? Conversely, what are some key issues existing in Jefferson Parish that you feel need to be addressed and potentially changed? We do so many things “right” in Jefferson Parish and that’s why, overall, I believe our citizens feel they live in a stable community. There are immediate things for our new administration, such as focusing on making sure improvements to our landfill remain on track. Additionally, there are improvements to processes that we will tackle as well, such as our land use permitting procedures and recreation. I am so excited to be working on the administrative side and getting back to government operations, which is more of my natural skill set. I have this general belief that if you are not actively trying to improve things, then you are slowly falling behind — and it will be my job to make sure all of our leadership is actively engaging in improvement processes. For performance measures, status quo is not good enough.

What makes Jefferson Parish a special place to live and work? We have historically been thought of as a suburban community, and that is quickly changing. Jefferson Parish has such a strong residential base, which brings about the advantages of a suburb, but we also have such strong retail areas as well. My favorite part of Jefferson Parish is that our neighborhoods are so unique and historic within our parish — just think of the differences you have from Grand Isle to Old Gretna to Fat City (and I could name so many more). Those different cultures, building styles and history that define a neighborhood — all within one parish — make Jefferson Parish so very special.

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How important will your first 100 days in office be in terms of setting the correct tone for your term? What are some key things you want to get done during this initial stage? As the question states, our first 100 days may just be about setting the tone. I know a lot of governments highly regard the first 100 days and feel the pressure to perform and deliver on that timeline. I am someone that wants to make lasting improvements, and I know that requires understanding existing systems, obtaining the data, and getting input from stakeholders — and if we do that right, it will take more than 100 days. During those first days, we will also have to focus on our internal processes for preparing for council meetings. Not an exciting topic for outsiders, but from my perspective, a critical component for the smooth operation of government and our interaction with the new Jefferson Parish Council.

From a personal standpoint, is there any extra or special significance attached to being the first female elected as Parish President? Although I do believe that being the first woman and first person of Asian descent in the nearly 200 year history of our Parish to be elected Parish President is especially significant, I really wanted this position as validation of the hard work my staff and I have put in over the past decade and because I have a vision for the future of this parish. I believe that I was the choice of voters because they thought I was the most qualified for this job, so the fact that it makes history and can inspire young people, diverse people and women are all positive outcomes. I think we are seeing a cultural change in the past years evidenced by the fact that we are seeing many woman “firsts,” such as changes in leadership in surrounding parishes, our port and our universities.

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