Mayor Mitch Landrieu may face an easy race for another four years in office as the week of qualifying opens, but his City Council majority appears to be on the bubble on the eve of citywide elections.
Two of the mayor's consistent council allies — at-Large Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson and District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell — are term-limited. Clarkson was expected to retire from public office when her term ends in May, but now she's being courted to run for her old District C seat in the wake of District Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer's decision not to run for a second term.
Hedge-Morrell is running for Clarkson's at-large seat, but she faces at least one major challenger: attorney Jason Williams. The 41-year-old Williams ran a strong race for district attorney in 2008, finishing third. He also is the son-in-law of former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy. It will be interesting to see if Landrieu gets involved in that contest.
The other at-large council member, Stacy Head, is not term-limited. Head, who is not a Landrieu ally, is expected to face eastern New Orleans businessman Eugene Green, and possibly others, but she is expected to hold her seat.
Palmer's announcement last week further complicates the mayor's council politics. Palmer, who has been an ally of the mayor, would have been the favorite had she chosen to seek a second term from District C. Until her decision not to run again, Palmer faced only one challenger: former Civil Court Judge (and one-time mayoral candidate) Nadine Ramsey. With Palmer out of the running, the field is expected to grow significantly.
Others reportedly looking at the race include Clarkson, state Rep. Jeff Arnold (who previously said he would not run — but that was when Palmer was expected to run again), Algiers attorney and City Planning Commission Chairman Craig Mitchell, and attorney D'Juan Hernandez, president of the Algiers Economic Development Foundation — and brother-in-law to state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson.
On other council fronts, District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and District E Councilman James Gray were set to qualify this week. As of late last week, none had drawn major opponents.
While Hedge-Morrell is giving up the District D seat because of term limits, that seat could remain in the Morrell political family. State Rep. Jared Brossett, who got his political start as a City Hall aide to Hedge-Morrell, appeared to be the leading candidate to succeed her as of last week. If he wins, it's unclear if he will be as closely aligned with Landrieu as Hedge-Morrell has been. Like other members of the city's legislative delegation, Brossett sometimes had differences with the mayor.
Of course, once qualifying opens on Wednesday (Dec. 11), anything can — and probably will — happen. Candidates have until 5 p.m. Friday (Dec. 13) to qualify.