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Judicial runoff races could hinge on CCC renewal turnout

22nd April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Early voting begins this Saturday for the runoff elections for judgeships in Orleans and Jefferson—with the formal election day scheduled for May. Looking back at the April 6 primary, the results offer a few clues as to which candidate in either the Orleans Juvenile Court race or the East Jefferson 24 JDC Division D contest leads today.

In Orleans, Doug Hammel’s strong primary showing of 43 percent of the vote in the Juvenile Court race telegraphs a dominant position for a runoff by the numbers alone. Moreover, the former prosecutor lucked out in his opponent. By the narrowest of margins, perennial candidate Yolanda King beat out Cynthia Samuel by just over 200 votes, or 25 percent to 23 percent.

Hammel enjoyed the vast majority of endorsements from African-American to Caucasian, Democratic to Republican politicians. Those that he had not won, however, mainly went to Samuel. From a sign, fundraising, and infrastructural standpoint, she had a more credible chance to unify the Black vote for an African-American challenger facing a Caucasian. (Of course, even Samuel had fallen short on this front. Hammel had reached out to most of the influence makers in the Black Community weeks before—demonstrated by his advantage in endorsements, this newspaper proving no exception.)

King’s 25 percent seems consistent with her results in her past judicial bids. The margin that denied Samuel a runoff slot was not this, but the 9 percent or 1,150 votes won by Ninth Ward activist George “Gino” Gates. Where those votes and Samuel’s 23 percent will go remain to be seen, yet Hammel, with a long legal record, may be able to make a better case to earn them than his perennial opponent.

Of course, Hammel’s victory was better explainable by the racial breakdown of the New Orleans electorate on April 6. In a city that is over 60 percent Black, substantially more Caucasians voted than African-Americans in the primary—though turnout was anemic for both. The question remains, with even fewer African-American candidates, will the racial breakdown benefit Hammel to an even greater degree on May 4.

In the primary, a total of 6222 whites versus 5934 Blacks, with 525 Vietnamese, Hispanic, and others voted. Just over 12,000 voters came to the polls in a parish of over 242,000 registered — barely a 5.24 percent turnout. Caucasians im­proved over that number slightly with 7.66 percent turnout, and African Americans did slightly worse with 4.16 percent of the Black community going to the polls.

It’s equally reflected in the partisan representation in Orleans. There are 156,684 Democrats in Orleans Parish, but only 8,650 voted, and roughly a third of those were white. Amongst Republicans, in a city with only 27,925, 2,506 went to the polls— an overwhelmingly Cauca­sian sample.

Special elections tend to favor Caucasians over African-Ameri­cans in general. Still, Hammel and King are both registered Demo­crats, meaning that partisan dissatisfaction plays a smaller role in discouraging African-American turnout. The same cannot be said in East Jefferson where most of the Black electorate chose to stay home rather than make a choice in an all-GOP contest for the 24th JDC-Division D.

East Bank Jefferson voting stats from April 6 are harder to use as a predictor of who has the advantage in the contest between Hilary Landry and Scott Schlegel. The La. Secretary of State’s office reports the data for East and West Bank together. Considering highly fought races for Westwego and Gretna Mayor and Councilmanic races skewed the data.

The overall Jefferson turnout was 19.98 percent, yet in the precincts of the 24th JDC seat, stretching from the border of Kenner to approximately Clearview Parkway (and including a few Lakefront precincts towards Causeway Blvd.) the turnout was far lower.

Precinct 21, near the crossing of I-10 and Vets, which usually boasts of a large group of chronic voters, only saw a 12.42 percent turnout, however, none of its African-American registered voters went to the polls. Much the same happened in the oversized precinct 60. The same can be said in the border Kenner precincts 29 & 30 with four and eight percent turnout, but no black voters seen. Turnout in Elmwood’s precinct 125 was only 2.25 percent for Black votes, 6.94 percent for whites.

Nor do the votes that came in prior to April 6 provide much of a picture. Landry and Schlegel were essentially tied in the week of early voting, 300 to 306 or 35 percent to 36 percent each. On election day, Schlegel pulled ahead, keeping his 36 percent of the vote with 3,824. Landry went to 28 percent, at 2,917.

By conventional political logic, either candidate, though, remains in striking distance of a runoff victory since neither passed the 40 percent threshold. The question might be settled by the final destination of the almost collective 4,000 votes earned by John Sudderth and Lorriane Perkins McInnis. Where will they will go?

And, then there is the proverbial ‘wild card’, the CCC vote. Anger over the botched renewal of the tolls, the nearly tone deaf PR response, the narrow majority in the wake of the electoral case has transformed into a wave of public anger at the Bridge tolls. Whether this rage will translate into more voters on May 4 remains to be seen. If it should, Landry could benefit.

She currently outspends Schlegel by a factor of four to one. Should the Crescent City Connection tolls, or the various Jefferson Parish millage renewals drive higher turnout slightly higher, Landry’s ubiquitous television campaign commercials—and her consequent higher name recognition—might prove a slight advantage. This despite Schlegel’s status as the official Republican candidate, an advantage in the GOP-leaning district is turnout remains anemic, but not if the numbers going to the polls approach normal levels.

Whether the CCC turnout will benefit Hammel, as an increased more conservative, anti-tax electorate will trump the greater number of Black voters remains unclear.

This article originally published in the April 22, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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