In just four weeks, candidates for municipal and some parochial offices in New Orleans will line up to run — or not. The three-day qualifying period for mayor, City Council and several parochial offices runs from Dec. 11-13. So far, only a handful of races appear to be generating much interest, even among potential candidates.
It should come as no surprise that Mayor Mitch Landrieu has not attracted a well-financed opponent. Polls consistently show that voters approve of the job he's doing, and he has more than $1.6 million on hand for a campaign, if one proves necessary. Historically, New Orleans voters re-elect their mayors, even the ones who might not deserve it. (Read: Ray Nagin.)
Landrieu doesn't score so well among elected officials, which is largely a reflection of his style. Let's just say Hizzoner has "control issues." Such things bother other politicians a lot; the voters, not so much.
The only candidate to announce a run against Landrieu is attorney and local NAACP leader Danatus King, who had barely $500 on hand according to his recent campaign finance report. King may not pose much of a threat at the polls, but he strikes a chord among the city's poor and dispossessed. He will get a lot more votes for his $500 than many expect.
If anyone else is thinking about running against Landrieu, he or she better start making some noise. Unless someone with name recognition and significant fundraising ability shows up soon, Landrieu is a lock.
Things are not so certain on the City Council. For the first time, candidates will run for the council's two at-large seats in separate contests. At-Large Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson is term-limited, so her seat is open.
So far, three candidates have announced their intentions to seek Clarkson's seat: District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell; attorney and one-time district attorney candidate Jason Williams, who is the son-in-law of former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy; and former interim District E Councilman Freddie Charbonnet.
Hedge-Morrell has served on the council since early 2005 and has the greatest name recognition, but after almost nine years in office, not all of that recognition is favorable. She is term-limited in District D. Williams, at 41, represents a generational shift. If either he or Charbonnet can raise enough money to mount a full-scale campaign, Hedge-Morrell will have a race on her hands.
The other at-large council race will have incumbent Stacy Head seeking re-election. This week, real estate executive Eugene Green, who has served in government in various appointed capacities (the latest as a member of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority), will announce his intention to run against Head, who has a major head start in name recognition and fundraising.
Among district councilmembers, only District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer has generated a major opponent so far, but that could change. Former Civil Court Judge Nadine Ramsey has announced her candidacy for District C, which always seems to be the venue for close, hotly contested races. State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, considered making the race as well, but decided to pass.
District C has an African-American majority and thus would seem to favor Ramsey, who is black, but since Hurricane Katrina, a growing number of black and white voters have looked past race inside the voting booth. This one will be an election to watch.
The contest that should be the hottest on the ballot — the one for Orleans Parish sheriff — has thus far attracted a less-than-stellar field. Incumbent Marlin Gusman is clearly vulnerable. His own testimony in federal court during the consent decree hearings, along with the incendiary video of inmates drinking and doing drugs in his jail, would be enough to end the career of most politicians. But so far, only former Sheriff (and former state Attorney General) Charles Foti and School Board President Ira Thomas have lined up to run against him.
Foti, who is 75, was sheriff for almost 30 years. Some say he created the problems at Orleans Parish Prison in the first place; many suspect that he will simply ensure Gusman's re-election in a racially divisive contest. Thomas has yet to show that he has the chops for the race or the job.
Between now and Dec. 13, we'll see who has the heart — and the stomach — for public office these days.