Filed Under:  Politics

An Analyst: Why didn’t Bagneris beat out Cantrell or Charbonnet?

23rd October 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

It is hard to imagine a more challenging Saturday night for Michael Bagneris. On the heels of being denied a runoff slot in a contest for Mayor, Bagneris’ daughter, Mia was hit by a drunk driver upon returning home to the Bywater from her father’s election-night party.

She has endured multiple surgeries since suffering the life-threatening injuries on October 14, which included a broken leg, a shattered pelvis, internal bleeding, and head trauma.

An outpouring of thoughts and prayers for Mia Bagneris has resulted in the launch of a GoFundMe campaign to help defray hospital bills. (

Personal tragedy always puts political setbacks in perspective. Nevertheless, the architecture was always there for Michael Bagneris to make the mayoral runoff. A third of the electorate supported him in his bid against Mitch Landrieu, and the former Civil District Chief Judge has lost little public appeal in the intervening four years. The reason he did not advance into the November 18th election can be attributed to two men — Jay Batt and Troy Henry.

Both of whom like and respect the former CDC Judge very much, but whose opposing decisions based on Bagneris’ early weakness in the polls would condemn the second-time mayoral candidate to a third-place finish at 19 percent.

LaToya Cantrell was always going to present a formidable obstacle to Bagneris’ consolidating the white vote. Her populist appeal cut through the neighborhood organizations that might otherwise consider him as a standard-bearer. Her 51 percent victory in her Council District “B,” particularly in most of its Caucasian Uptown precincts, along with her strength in Hollygrove, Mid-City, the 9th Ward, areas of the West Bank, and even parts of Gentilly and downtown’s 7th Ward (previous thought pro-Charbonnet regions), took core voters who backed Bagneris in 2013.

Still, Cantrell’s 39 percent would not have automatically denied the former CDC Judge a runoff slot if Bagneris had not lost a core of Black professionals to Henry and many white Republicans to Charbonnet — each voters he won four years ago. The proof is geographic.

Bagneris’ victories in precincts in Lakeview, around Audubon Park, the center of the Garden District, English Turn, and Venetian Isles were narrow, not the commanding majorities in the white precincts which his campaign needed to make the runoff, just tending to narrowly edge out Cantrell or Charbonnet.

Bagneris won only nine percent of Black voters and 27 percent of other voters versus Cantrell’s 40 percent of African Americans and 41 percent of the remaining electorate. Equally, Charbonnet was the choice of 40 percent of Black voters. Yet, the former Municipal Judge’s 20 percent of non-Black voters actually exceeds some initial estimates of her potential Caucasian support.

Some attribute the reason to the “Sacred Heart Mafia.” Generations of Uptowners were raised on a joke. “Graduates from the Academy of Sacred Heart actually run the city. They organize everything.”

There is little doubt that members of the extended Charbonnet clan, a great many of whom attended the Uptown girls school, actively used their influence in Sacred Heart’s strong alumni networks to organize this often wealthy and influential sector of New Orleans (mostly white) upper class in favor of Judge Charbonnet’s candidacy for Mayor. This extended to daily appearances of high school girls in “Our Lady Catholic tartan” skirts waving “Desiree” signs on St. Charles Ave. — a particularly Uptown stamp of approval for a Black candidate. (The irony is Desiree Charbonnet herself attended Cabrini.)

However, the backing of a large percentage of the one school’s alumni and students hardly explains the levels of Charbonnet’s Caucasian support, underlining her second-place finish, no matter how much Sacred Heart graduates boast. A much-simpler explanation exists for her 30 percent in the primary: Desiree Charbonnet’s strong support from the upper echelons of the Orleans Parish Republican Party.

The endorsement of the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee for her candidacy took Bagneris by surprise, to say the least. Four years ago, he enjoyed ubiquitous Republican assistance in his bid against Mitch Landrieu, with the Parish GOP Chairman and former Councilman Jay Batt loudest amongst them.

Bagneris’ critique that the current mayor had paid no attention to public opinion in removing the statues kept him quite popular in GOP circles in the interim. (Some might argue that Bagneris’ support for a referendum on the Confederate monuments might have affected his turnout in the African-American community, even as it earned him white votes. However, District B candidate Jay Banks held much the same position —advocating a public vote —and his Black support was quite comparatively high against a field of mostly other African-American candidates — enough to earn a runoff slot against Seth Bloom.)

Still, at the time of the endorsement meeting in early September, the Orleans R-PEC was badly divided, out of a worry that Bagernis’ poll numbers were too weak to make the runoff — and the lack of sufficient funds to bolster his numbers — at least in comparison to the $500,000 war chest Charbonnet garnered within days of her announcement. And Committee members were terrified of LaToya Cantrell becoming Mayor, out of an belief, as one member put it to The Louisiana Weekly, that “She’s a socialist.” At an impasse, they turned to their Chairman for guidance.

Batt had built the Orleans Republican PEC from a political non-entity into arguably the most influential endorsement in the city. He had done so at great political difficulty, defining state party rules that insisted Parish parties should only back Republicans. Instead, Batt advocated endorsing a sympathetic Democrat when no Republican ran for a City office. The local GOP suddenly became the Orleans Parish kingmaker.

Not having a candidate make the mayoral runoff would undermine that influence — which was acceptable if neither of the remaining frontrunners were insufficiently ideologically moderate. Charbonnet, though, reportedly bent over backwards to demonstrate her conservative bonefides on public safety, taxes, and budgetary matters.

According to witnesses in the room, it is not so much that Batt swung the vote to Charbonnet, as he raised the concern over Bagneris’ polling numbers. Even his critics noted how scrupulously neutral the Chairman sought to be in the closed, private discussion. “Jay did his job well,” one member privately observed to this newspaper. “He spoke positively of Bagneris and Charbonnet, discussed the polls, and then let us decide.”

When in a tight majority, the PEC voted to endorse Charbonnet, Batt abandoned any previous reticence of a Chairman, and loudly advocated for Charbonnet. Networks of GOP donors and mailing lists were alerted to the party’s strong support for the former Municipal Court Judge, and New Orleans ex-pat Republicans, not as tied into the daily news cycle, began to call their relatives and friends in the city from afar and say “Charbonnet’s the one.”

That augmented her local Republican advocates who were ardent in their mailers and phone banking to the party faithful. Add the steady drumbeat against Cantrell, and a large sliver of the conservative vote were convinced to abandon Bagneris in favor of Charbonnet. In fairness, the GOP fear of the District “B” Councilwoman emerges more from attitude than ideology. The vast majority of LaToya Cantrell’s economic policy proposals fall into the moderate mainstream, hardly constituting the Bernie Sanders Socialism that these Republican leaders worry she shall inflict upon the Crescent City. (Logic suggests that just because a councilwoman bans smoking in bars and seeks a rental registry, she should not be automatically labeled an unreasonably Leftist.)

Nevertheless, when their Young Republican offshoot, the Greater New Orleans Republicans, followed suit in endorsing Charbonnet, in retrospect, the race was over for Bagneris. Regardless, Bagneris’ weakness in the polls – that caused this turn of events – came as a direct result of Troy Henry’s entrance into the Mayor’s race. It was a danger the former CDC Judge himself perceived.

Reportedly, Bagneris urged Henry not to qualify for mayor, reasoning that the businessman’s candidacy directly cut into the former CDC Chief Judge’s middle-class African-American base of support. Many of the same people who voted for Henry eight years ago backed Bagneris four years ago. In retrospect, the Judge’s worry that the two men would cannibalize their collective constituency likely proved prescient when the businessman earned just under seven percent of the electorate on October 14.

Now, both Charbonnet and Cantrell ardently seek the endorsements of Bagneris and Henry. The Judge’s concern over his daughter’s health has delayed action. Were he to back Cantrell, a distinct possibility given Bagneris’ personal antipathy to the Charbonnet family, the local GOP still will undertake every effort to swing his conservative voters in Charbonnet’s favor.

Even with the momentum currently in the councilwoman’s favor, the equal danger for Cantrell rests in Charbonnet’s ability to win the African-American voters who cast their ballots for Henry. Tulane University professor J. Celeste Lay told The Times-Picayune that data taken from a focus group whom she assembled showed the six percent of the electorate captured by Troy Henry could go mostly to Charbonnet.

Despite GOP pressure and the looming negative attacks coming on her record on the Council, Cantrell maintains the advantage in wooing Bagneris’ electorate to her side in the runoff. “Bagneris’ areas were closer to Cantrell’s areas demographically, so there might be more support there for Cantrell,” Lay said.

Besides Bagneris’ strength in Uptown and Lakeview potentially opting for the Councilwoman, Charbonnet and Cantrell were tied in support in Council Districts “D” and “E”, the former including her native 7th Ward neighborhood and a stronghold of the COUP political organization backing her candidacy and the latter comprising New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward where her staunch ally Congressman Cedric Richmond campaigns on her behalf.

Nevertheless, at least one group that backed Bagneris has already opted for Charbonnet over Cantrell. Late last week, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a group of more than 100 mainly African-American New Orleans ministers whom Bagneris considered the key base of this mayoral campaign, swung its weight behind Charbonnet.

This article originally published in the October 23, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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