Filed Under:  Politics

NOLa politics: Leger mulls mayoral bid, while Carter-Peterson says no

10th July 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Only one true victor emerged from the recent special legislative session, and if Rep. Walt Leger III is smart, the Speaker Pro Tem can ride his victory into the New Orleans Mayor’s Office. In part, the District 91 State Rep. has this opportunity calling because former garbage magnate Sidney Torres may not run; though, the departure of Karen Carter-Peterson from the mayoral race might complicate Leger’s decision.

Leger triumphed in the Special Session as neither Gov. John Bel Edwards nor his Republican antagonist House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry could. The Uptown moderate Democrat convinced 13 state House Republicans to jump ship and vote for the Democratic-Senate compromise that essentially balanced the budget in the form that Leger’s party had sought at the conclusion of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session. (Though, not at its dawn.)

In other words, he acted more in the role of House Speaker (a job he once craved) than either the current incumbent Taylor Barras or his patron Cameron Henry. Leger achieved full funding of state universities, a success not seen for almost a decade, but equally managed to get Democrats to swallow a far more modest budget than their gubernatorial champion had hoped.

In doing so, he won the approval of a nervous business community seeking stability and a demoralized La. Democratic Party used to succumbing to GOP spending priorities. In other words, the young Speaker Pro Tem demonstrated in a moment of crisis exactly the qualities needed as Mayor of New Orleans.

As recently as last week, friends of Leger doubted that he would run, but their odds on his qualifying have increased to 50/50 as of last Thursday. There are a variety of reasons, yet the most prominent is former garbage magnet and social critic Sidney Torres’ recent ambivalence on announcing a candidacy for mayor. His potential ‘bowing out’ of the mayoral contest benefits Leger, as a recent Silas Lee poll shows. The Speaker Pro Tem currently holds six percent of the electorate if Torres runs for Mayor, nine percent if he does not. However, in the latter scenario, Lee’s poll shows the other three major mayoral candidates, Michael Bagneris, Desiree Charbonnet, and LaToya Cantrell, each garnering 13 percent, 18 percent, and 26 percent respectively, without Torres, and lower numbers with the one-time garbage magnate included. Add to that 33 percent undecided, and the conclusion becomes simple. There is very little hard and fixed support for any contender. Introduce another prominent African-American candidate, and, sans Torres, an opportunity exists for a Caucasian moderate Democrat like Leger to edge his way into the runoff.

And to win. Despite the palatable desire in the NOLA Black community for the next mayor to be African-American (as polling data has suggested over the last year), in a November runoff, Leger could still fashion a coalition of middle-class Blacks and whites concerned with spiking crime to achieve a narrow victory. The fusion politics of Leger’s campaign would resemble Mitch Landrieu’s recent two bids, though with a greater focus on criminality than recovery and without much of the danger of recalcitrant Republicans bolting, unable to support a Democratic dynast.

Amongst the African-American contenders, only Michael Bagneris has any sort of relationship with the city’s GOP leadership, which could arrest such a fusion strategy. (The former CDC Chief Judge won that party’s endorsement four years ago against Landrieu.) However, local party leaders would be sensitive to GOP rank and file’s natural inclination to support a Caucasian candidate, and it is likely Leger could get Orleans Republican backing—in addition to his current base of “limousine liberals” and minority middle-class moderates.

He has six figures in his campaign bank account, stands as the current hero of the La. Democratic Party without holding particularly left-wing views, and has authored a recently-passed criminal justice reform bill which pleased both progressives for addressing over-reaction to drug-based nonviolent offenses and conservatives for opening jail space to house violent felons.

A campaign based on crime prevention and job creation would place Leger in a strong runoff position, no matter which African-American contender emerged from the primary “knife-fight” between three evenly matched and decently financed Black mayoral aspirants.

Which is to say, the Speaker Pro Tem could win, if he decides to run, and he faces little downside. As a term-limited white Democrat from New Orleans, Leger’s political career potential is limited in Louisiana other than this. Even better, the State Representative can keep his current legislative job for the better part of the next three years, and still have a free shot at mayor. No need to resign to run, only if he prevails.

The former Garbage Magnate still poses a difficulty, if he does make the race. The populist outsider appeal of a Sidney Torres candidacy would pose a threat to earning a runoff slot for another White candidate.

Leger would have also had an easier time if Sen. Karen Carter-Peterson had opted to run. The inclusion of another first-rank Black contender would have further divided the current mayoral field of predominantly African-American candidates, raising the District 91 State Rep’s chances of achieving the runoff.

However, in a Facebook post late Wednesday, Carter wrote, “After careful consideration, I have decided not to become a candidate for Mayor of the City of New Orleans.”

“I am thankful for the continued support and confidence expressed by so many citizens of our great City. I’m honored by the trust voters have bestowed on me and plan to continue my public service in the Louisiana Senate…As New Orleans Tricentennial anniversary nears, the city is well-poised to reclaim its position as a regional economic powerhouse and continue as a leading international destination, all attributed to the uniqueness of our culture and diversity, and the resilience and grit of its people.”

“However, we must re-commit ourselves to ensuring that more of our citizens are poised to share fully in the city’s success. With public safety, neighborhood revitalization, and increased economic opportunity for all at the forefront of voters concerns, the next mayor must offer bold solutions to these systemic problems.”

“The citizens of New Orleans are ready for great things and I am committed to working with the next mayor to deliver on the promise of an even brighter future for New Orleans.”

This article originally published in the July 10, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.