After a long delay, the upcoming citywide elections are beginning to come into focus. City Councilwoman Shelley Midura's announcement last week that she will not run for re-election is likely to be the first of several councilmember decisions with regard to the incumbents' political futures.
Qualifying for all city offices is Dec. 9-11, which is less than five months away. The primary is Feb. 6, with runoffs set for March 6, 2010.
Midura's decision not to seek a second term means there will be no rematch between Midura, a Democrat, and Republican Jay Batt, whom she unseated in 2006. Batt is now the frontrunner in District A, but by no means a shoo-in. At least two potential challengers have emerged already — blogger and preservationist Karen Gadbois, and NOPD Crisis Unit coordinator Cecile Tebo. Either would give Batt a spirited race.
Elsewhere on the council, some members have made up their minds about what they're going to do in December, while others remain mum.
• At-Large Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson has decided to run for re-election. She will be a probable favorite, although any race for the council's two at-large seats is tricky. Unlike Jefferson Parish, where candidates for the two at-large council seats declare specifically for one seat or the other, candidates for the two New Orleans at-large seats wage a free-for-all. Voters can cast ballots for two candidates in the primary, which means 25 percent plus one of the total votes cast constitutes a majority.
• At-Large Councilman Arnie Fielkow has several options: running for mayor, running for re-election, running for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent David Vitter in November 2010, and getting out of politics altogether. Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu's decision not to run for mayor will bring encouragement, if not pressure, for Fielkow to run for mayor. He remains undecided, and the longer he takes to make up his mind, the more people may wonder if he has the toughness required of a mayor. Moreover, a delayed decision to run for re-election could draw more challengers.
• Outspoken District B Councilwoman Stacy Head is presumed to face a tough re-election fight in Central City, but so far she has no declared opponent. Head has not yet announced her own intentions, but insiders expect her to run for re-election. In her favor, she clearly has the thick hide (and sharp tongue, judging by her emails) required for a bare-knuckle political battle.
• District C Councilman James Carter seemed to lose the fire in his belly after his disappointing fourth-place finish in the 2008 congressional primary. He has not yet declared his intentions and shows no signs that he's up for a fight. Most insiders expect him not to run again.
• District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, like Clarkson, appears headed for re-election. No one has surfaced yet as an opponent, and her family has a string of recent victories in the Gentilly area.
• District E Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis is the only council member who is term limited in her present job. She will run at-large, regardless of what Fielkow does. Right now she appears to be the leading black candidate for an at-large spot, but several other African-American challengers are likely to surface between now and qualifying in December.
It will be interesting to see if Midura's announcement has her desired effect of inspiring other ordinary citizens to get engaged in the political process. If it does, no one's political future is certain.