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Mayor draws a second challenger as qualifying ends

16th December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Stacy Head brought Santa’s elves out to teach the Electric Slide to local kids at her campaign kickoff on Saturday, December 7, at City’s Park’s Celebration in the Oaks. Not to be out-done, fellow At-Large Council aspirant Ernest “Freddy” Charbonnet had a Ritz-like affair of the movers and shakers in New Orleans at the Raffertys’ swanky Garden District Home on December 10.

Nadine Ramsey and Eugene Green got little coverage for their simultaneous, if more low-key, events that day, though none earned the coverage of Jackie Clarkson earlier Tuesday afternoon. The At-Large Councilwoman and re-turned District “C” aspirant spoke more briefly than any of the other candidates at her surprise announcement gathering on the Algiers Levee at 2 p.m., admitting before her breath-taking backdrop of the city skyline, “I’ll keep this short before we all freeze to death” from the biting wind off the Mississippi River.

Yet, of all of the municipal contenders, Mitch Landrieu succeeded in putting every other contender in the shadows with his re-election announcement gathering. He turned his announcement into a $250 a person fundraiser at Chicory on S. Peters, featuring the culinary creations of some of the most famous chefs in New Orleans. However, no sooner had the Mayor entered than had the whispers began to rush through the party.





CDC Judge Michael Bagneris had resigned from the bench only moments before, at 5:30 p.m., and Landrieu had an another opponent, one whom he had spent the past few months battling over Big Charity and a new courthouse.

Candidates qualified for the February 1, 2013 Municipal elections on Wednesday-Friday last week. When this newspaper went to press Friday morning, every incumbent but Clerks of Court Dale Atkins and Arthur Morrell, Assessor Erroll Williams, and District “B” Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell had drawn opposition.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman faces a serious challenge from both former Sheriff (and La. Attorney General) Charles Foti as well as OPSB President Ira Thomas, (with perennial candidate Quentin Brown rounding out the field).

Coroner Frank Minyard, who had seemed safe for yet another decade in office, pulled his old rival Dwight McKenna, along with a staffer from his own office and a fourth candidate, Vincent A. Collatta and Jeffery Rouse.

District “A” Councilwoman Susan Guidry drew the only GOP candidate running in February, “Drew” Ward, posing the question of how far the city’s only white-majority seat has traveled from its original Republican-leaning roots. (Four District “A” incumbents in a row were Republicans prior to the election of Guidry’s predecessor Demo-crat Shelley Midura eight years ago.) Democrat David Capasso also qualified against Guidry.

No one had expected a popular incumbent like Guidry to have an opponent any more than District “E”’s James Gray. While the former, though, earned only token opposition, the latter faces a serious challenge from the former incumbent of the “E” seat Cynthia Willard-Lewis.

She may have a couple of unsuccessful Council At-Large races to explain away to the voters, yet it’s not a hard case to make. Each time, Willard-Lewis lost by small margins, less than one percent to Jackie Clarkson and only slightly worse to Stacy Head. And, she went on to serve in a State Senate seat for a year, before re-districting carried that legislative seat away. As a Willard, she comes from an historic political family, and as the former District “E” incumbent she maintains a base in the New Orleans East/Lower Ninth Ward-centric seat. In fact, Willard-Lewis has argued that she would have beaten Gray in his special election after Jon Johnson went to prison, if only the Courts had not made her sit out a full four years thanks to a strict reading of the term-limits law.

The Council’s only open seat, District “D” saw State Representative Jared Brossett qualify. In his legislative district, he not only represents most of the municipal seat already, he also used to run incumbent Cynthia Hedge-Morrell’s office, and is something of an adoptive son to the outgoing incumbent. However, election remains no proverbial cakewalk, as former SUNO President Joe Bouie and neighborhood activist (and Brossett’s former legislative opponent) Dalton Savwoir are both running against the State Rep.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell seemed quite confident as she made the rounds at Mitch Landrieu’s party on Wednesday. It was her fourth soiree that day, yet she cannot afford to tire in a tough race also featuring Freddy Charbonnet—the former District “E” interim Councilman from a political family as well-known as the Morrells—as well as former D.A. candidate and prominent defense attorney Jason Williams.

All three are very well financed; though, Charbonnet flexed his muscles on Tuesday on that front—showing his seasoned opponents that a first-time candidate can lead the field if he can break into the corridors of Uptown money. That campaign warchest grew spectacularly at the Rafferty home on Third Street on Tuesday night. The fundraiser featured a “who’s who” of New Orleans political society joined with the rising tech entrepreneurs that have come to the city in recent years. The “Silicon Bayou” special interest area of Charbonnet’s, and his campaign finance reports promise to reflect that advocacy.

Both Charbonnet and Williams, of course, made it to Stacy Head’s party on the previous Saturday morning at the Pavilion of Two Sisters at City Park’s Xmasified Botanical Gardens. They and other candidates made the rounds in an announcement party unlike any that any other incumbent Councilwoman At-Large—or for that matter anybody—had ever intended.

Stacy Head hired elves. By some accounts, her staff thought the Councilwoman was “crazy,” but, in what turned out to be a brilliant political move, she employed four men to dress as Santa’s helpers—and to spread the Christmas cheer for the children attending.

That alone made her announcement kickoff an historically different type of affair. Head’s campaign commencement—held in the middle of Celebration in the Oaks, with only daylight subduing the Winter Wonderland effect—was turned into a children’s Christmas Party. Not only fellow politicos, but elementary schoolers from around the city, guzzled hot apple cider and Lucky Dogs to the tune of Christmas carols. And, the occasional line dance. One of the elves took it upon himself, after chomping on the crawfish bread on hand, to teach the kids how to do the Electric Slide.

Well, when you’re walking on thin ice at the North Pole, you might as well dance. It’s true for Stacy Head. She remains a favorite for re-election to Council At-Large, but she faces her most serious and best-financed opponent in years, former New Orleans (East) Business and Industrial District head Eugene Green. Unlike the other At-Large race, which featured no white candidates when this newspaper went press, Head has to contend with an African-American electorate frustrated with the racial composition of a Council that went from 5-2 Black to white, pre-Katrina, to literally the opposite.

Nor can the incumbent Caucasian Councilwoman At-Large retreat to the old “unwritten” rule of one white At-Large incumbent, one Black At-Large. Her election victory over Cynthia Willard-Lewis created the Caucasian supermajority. Still, Green lacks Head’s money, breadth of support, and apparent Christmas cheer. In a race broken up by the 12 days, New Year’s, and every other holiday distraction, Head’s lead in name recognition and funding could prove all the difference.

“There’s only two weeks of real campaign time,” following Christmas to New Year’s week, and prior to the open of early voting in mid-January, Mayor Mitch Landrieu postulated to The Louisiana Weekly at his event on Wednesday. He was talking about why Jackie Clarkson had the name-recognition advantage in her District “C” bid, but he could have as easily been speaking about himself against Michael Bagneris. The Mayor had learned about the Judge’s resignation from the Civil District Court Bench just moments before.

Landrieu, of course, faces his own former Judge to win election The latter’s candidacy is predicated on much the same strategy as Ramsey’s though, Micheal Bagneris enjoys slightly better odds in a city that remains over 60 percent Black. Should it matter if a Black Majority city has a Black mayor constitutes part of the subtext of the CDC Judge’s bid. Though if any voter misses the point, it is the active commentary of the third contender for the Mayor’s office, local NAACP head Danatus King.

Bagneris, who managed several mayoral bids himself, before an unsuccessful bid for Congress, and then election to the CDC Bench two decades ago, found himself fully vested in his retirement this year. Pension secure, he could voice his antipathy to Landrieu in a mayor’s race at little financial cost to himself. And, that dislike grew to epic levels in recent months as the two men battled over whether to build a new Civil District Court house as part of a conversion of “Big Charity” into a new Civic Center/City Hall or to have a free standing CDC at Duncan Plaza.

Landrieu believed that Bagneris was on board with a single complex for City Hall and CDC, Bagneris argued that the Mayor never suggested “Big Charity” as the location, and never said the two complexes should be in the same building. He thought Landrieu meant beside one another on the same plot of land, similar to today’s layout.

Besides, Bagneris attacked Landrieu’s support of the new UMC Hospital over fixing “Big Charity,” so the dispute deepened over what the Mayor considers his signature economic development success—the Medical District. And, that’s not all the detest about one another. It’s worthwhile to remember that Bagneris managed Donald Mintz’s campaign against Landrieu, the first time then-State Rep. Mitch ran for his father’s old job. It was a bitter race then, as now could prove.

Interestingly, Bagnaris had a party of his own, right after qualifying on Friday. Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere invited the Judge to address that afternoon’s meeting of the Women’s Republican Club of New Orleans.

With the news of Bagneris’ candidacy, Landrieu did not seem worried.

Contributions added to his $2 million existing campaign account could provide the bitter taste of defeat to a possible challenger.

This article originally published in the December 16, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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