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Underdogs upset judge favorites as CCC tolls go down in defeat

13th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Two Judicial favorites, with the lionshare of endorsements, financing, and experience, lost on Saturday May 4th, to two underdog challengers, one of whom has questions of residency so serious that some wonder if she will ever assume the bench.

Newly elected Orleans Juvenile Court Judge Yolanda King succeeded on her fifth attempted run for judicial office, beating Doug Hammel narrowly, 53 percent to 47 percent. Yet, pundits immediately concluded that Westbank African-American turnout — surging in anger at the Crescent City Connection tolls — alone carried King along to victory. An analysis by The Louisiana Weekly finds this to be untrue. King would have emerged victorious from just the East Bank results.

Perhaps it was overall hatred of the bridge tolls, or allegations of voter disenfranchisement in the primary, but overall in Orleans Parish on May 4, 2013, African-American turnout to the polls occurred at levels at or beyond the Caucasian vote. And, this happened in a special election where Black voters are traditionally considered less of a factor despite their numeric majority in Orleans Parish. It raises the question if Black voter participation levels will match those of whites in most elections from now on —as they did in November 2012 for Barack Obama.

In Jefferson, the CCC surge played little role in Scott Schlegel’s win over Hilary Landry in the 24 JDC Division D election. Instead, some blamed a surprise Supreme Court ruling on Friday before the election, yet racial and ethnic epithets made against Landry may have played almost as large a role as Schlegel’s more effective GOTV effort in explaining his victory.

The CCC toll renewal did effect politics in the state’s largest parish in one way, though. Three critical millage renewals failed as voters, Black and white, turned out on Jazz Fest Weekend to kill the tolls. The property taxes for millages and schools were unintended victims, and there is real question if they can even be brought up for reconsideration on the autumn ballot.

ORLEANS PARISH

Hammel’s lost came as a result of African Americans. They constituted the majority of the voters. Pundits immediately called it a fluke. They looked back on Saturday, May 4, 2013 and said that what happened was that the West Bank African-American voters turned out in unusually high numbers in order to reject the bridge tolls. And, while in that voting booth, they elected King. The problem is, their contention does not gel with the data.

It is true that turnout was 22 percent in Algiers versus just over 11 percent on the East Bank. West Bankers in general were so angry over the fumbled efforts to extend the life of the CCC tolls, that some areas reached general election voter participation numbers.

The West Bank surge, though, was not enough to decide the Juvenile Court election by itself. A survey conducted by The Louisiana Weekly tallied the Westbank Precinct results and discovered that Hammel earned 3204 votes to King’s 3874, or a margin of 670 votes in King’s favor.

Citywide, King beat Hammel 16,928 to 14,239, or a margin of 2689 votes. Proportionately, King earned a higher average percentage of victory on the West Bank, but would have won regardless. She dominated early voting by a wide margin, 2,177 to 1,396, or 781 votes. Assuming even there a large number of West Bankers turned out to vote, the margins still would not have changed the election result. With no early voting, and the East Bank margins alone, King would have still emerged victorious by a 2019 vote margin.

So how did a candidate who spent less than $8,000 in total, on an off year, late spring election, win? Whites went to Jazz Fest; Blacks went to the polls.

Perhaps the CCC levies proved enough motivation on both sides of the river. Overall, maintaining the tolls went down to defeat in Orleans Parish 69 percent to 31 percent, or by more than an 11,000 vote margin. In fact, more people cast a ballot on the CCC than the judge race, 13. 5 percent to 12.9 percent.

But it was the African-American electorate, who proportionately exceeded Caucasian turnout nationally on November 6, 2012, managed to repeat the feat. Even when the re-election of a Black President was not at stake, the Black electorate proved that given an emotional issue, they would vote. Perhaps that was the CCC vote citywide, or maybe it was just the desire to vote. Either way, King won because of it.

JEFFERSON PARISH

Certainly, though, the CCC tolls did have a direct political impact that few foresaw on the other side of the 17th Street Canal. Three critical millage renewals were on the ballot in Jefferson. Two underwrote nearly all of the Parish’s infrastructure repair and upgrade capital budgets, and they went down to defeat. Voters who went to the polls to kill the bridge tolls did not discriminate according to other taxes.

At least, most did not. The margins of defeat were far closer, 52-48 in two and 53-47 in the third. (One millage for fire protection did pass, but it was enacted over an area of only 16 precincts.)

The week after the election saw Jeff Councilman Chris Roberts tear into Parish President John Young as a consequence. Roberts not only took the Administration to task of a $20 million hole in the budget, but noted that the millages actually expired at the end of 2012. So, the Parish will collect nothing for 2013, even if the effort to put them back on the ballot succeeds, and Jefferson voters enact them in November.

That may not occur. Re-votes for defeated millages cannot be reconsidered until six months have passed under state law. Making the issue even more complicated, the Sewerage millages already expired in 2012. As such, some argue Jefferson is trying to impose a new tax, which mandates advertising and public comment requirements, and willing to go to court unless the Young Administration goes through the entire process. If the Parish President accedes, there is no way his staff could file the ballot measure with the Secretary of State in time for the fall.

The Crescent City Connection had little impact on at least two elections, though. Scott Schlegel won the JDC Division D race in a textbook, grassroots method—with some troubling allegations thrown in the mix.

Veteran domestic violence and civil attorney Hilary Landry entered the race with the support of Sheriff Newel Norman and D.A. Paul Connick, and a large campaign finance budget, largely contributed by she and her husband. Her primary advertisements centered upon her record in advocacy for women and her priorities for the court.

Landry ran a television-centric race. She did knock on doors, and had some for of ground game, but her GOTV efforts paled before those of Scott Schlegel. The seasoned ADA had assembled a team of precinct captains and volunteers that knocked on the doors of the Kenner to Transcontinental, River to Lake, seat. On a shoestring budget, he managed to seem everywhere, even though Landry dominated TV and media on a 10-to-one basis.

There was an uglier side to the race, however. While Schlegel disavowed the comments, Landry was attacked on her immigrant heritage. Rumors that “she’s a Muslim” and other racial epithets were the undercurrent of the race. Landry, a practicing Catholic, noted the truth, but tried to stay above the racial and ethnic slurs.

There is some evidence that they had an impact. Landry made one misstep that Schlegel made proverbial hay of, namely a late filing of her personal financial documents. The delay did not stop Landry from winning the Alliance for Good Government endorsement, though, and internal polling data does not reveal a swing due to this issue alone.

Whether the financial disclosures impacted the race’s end result, or if the rumors played the principal role, there is little doubt that Hilary Landry had lost this race, despite investments of hundreds of thousands, before the last week of the runoff.

Many, including the author of this article, concluded on election night that a finding of the Judicial Committee of the State Supreme Court against Landry had swung the election. Published on the front page of the Friday morning papers, it took her to task for running a campaign spot that featured a domestic violence case upon which Schlegel had not acted while serving in the District Attorney’s office.

Calling this an ongoing case, the Judicial committee said Landry had violated the cannons by offering her opinion—even though this is her legal area of expertise.

In point of fact, though, Landry had already lost early voting 34 percent to 66 percent. The damage was done well before the Judicial Committee ruled.

Whether it was the “Muslim” rumors or a more effective campaign on Schlegel’s part with nearly every household in the district receiving a personal telephone call, in the end, Landry won just six of the precincts (though she ended barely short of tie in several more). Otherwise it was a Schlegel landslide with 67 percent of the vote. It nearly mirrored the early voting totals.

In Westwego, it is likely that the CCC played little role in the may­or’s race. Incumbent Johnny Shaddinger won re-election over Ted Munch. The latter, who left a safe council seat to challenge the sitting mayor, failed 48 to 52 percent. Whether Republican Gary Toups’ 60-vote victory over Demo­crat Melvin Guidry had anything to do with the toll renewal is impossible to determine.

This article originally published in the May 13, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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