With the Labor Day weekend over -- and hurricane season permitting -- candidates from across the state are expected to sprint for the finish line in the Oct. 4 primary election.
The St. Bernard chapter of the political organization Alliance for Good Government will host forums for three statewide offices -- lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, and secretary of agriculture and forestry, respectively -- beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at the St. Bernard Council Chamber, 8201 W. Judge Perez Drive in Chalmette. The public is invited to all Alliance forums, officials say.
In a surprise last week, all four chapters of the Alliance -- representing the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany -- endorsed outgoing Republican state elections commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell over Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti, a Democrat, for state Attorney General.
Unlike Terrell, an Alliance insider said, Foti's campaign had aggressively lobbied for the Alliance endorsement. But Foti delegated sheriff's office lawyer T. Allen Usry to debate Terrell at the Alliance forum while the sheriff attended a previously scheduled fundraiser in Lafayette. "Stand-ins don't usually do too well," the Alliance source says.
Foti got high marks for special programs outside the jail, the source says. But Alliance members were concerned that such efforts also detracted from his main duty, operating the city's jail. "Another problem Foti had was that everybody knew somebody who had been through the jail and was angry that it took eight to 12 hours to get out," the Alliance source says.
In response, Foti spokesman Allan Katz says, "There is a tradition at the Alliance of not giving the endorsement to people who send surrogates. So Foti was going against history." The sheriff received a special government award earlier this year from the Orleans chapter of the Alliance, which had endorsed his seven consecutive campaigns for sheriff, Katz notes. "I think it is fair to say that he feels that had he been there to make his case himself, the outcome might have been different," Katz says. Terrell could not be reached by presstime.
Elsewhere, the four chapters of the Alliance endorsed the re-election campaign of Republican Secretary of State Fox McKeithen. The Alliance also backed Democrat Barbara Ferguson's bid to upset Republican incumbent Donna Contois in the race for state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) seat District 1. Ferguson is a former superintendent of the Orleans Parish public schools system.
Locally, the Orleans Parish chapter of the Alliance, which endorsed opponents of two incumbent state legislators last week, will host two nights of campaign forums this week, beginning at 7 p.m. at Axel's, 3900 Tulane Ave. The first forum will be Tuesday, Sept. 2, and features the race for BESE Board District 2, followed by the race for Clerk of Criminal Court.
On Wednesday, Sept. 3, forums are scheduled for Judge of Criminal Court Section B, state representative of District 102 and state Senate District 3. "The featured race will be the Clerk of Criminal Court because the clerk counts the votes -- it's a very powerful position," says Robert K. Moffett, president of the Orleans chapter of the Alliance.
Eleven candidates are vying for the seat vacated by the election last year of Edwin Lombard to the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a field dominated by political unknowns, the candidates with the most name recognition are lawyer Walter Willard, former District E City Council member Johnny Jackson Jr. , former city Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Williamson-Butler and former District A City Council member Scott Shea. All are Democrats.
The other key race will be for judge of Criminal Court, Section B. Nine candidates are running for the seat vacated by the recent death of Judge Patrick Quinlan. Observers say the front-runner is Chief Deputy City Attorney Franz Zibilich, who ran for district attorney last year. Zibilich has won the support of New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan and the Progressive Democrats, the political organization led by U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson.
Zibilich joins three other former candidates who ran in different races last fall: Yancy Carter, who lost a two-man race to Judge Quinlan; Sandra Cabrina Jenkins, who ran a strong race for a vacant Section C Criminal Court seat won by Ben Willard; and Sonny Armond, who ran for the Section J Criminal Court seat won by Darryl Derbigny. Rounding out the field in the race for Quinlan's seat are former Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynda Van Davis; former chief deputy city attorney George Wallace, the only Republican in the race; criminal defense attorney George Blair III; and lawyers Gregory Voigt and Benny S. George Jr.
The Orleans chapter of the Alliance last week surprised political observers by endorsing opponents of two eastern New Orleans incumbents in the legislature. In the state Senate District 2 race, the Alliance endorsed Ann Duplessis, president of the board of the New Orleans Business Industrial District, over veteran incumbent Sen. Jon Johnson. And in the crowded House District 99 race, the Alliance endorsed former Assistant City Attorney Charmaine Marchand over incumbent Rep. Leonard Lucas Jr. , who ousted former state Rep. Sherman Copelin in a political upset four years ago.
The Alliance also endorsed attorney Randy Evans, the lone Republican among eight candidates for the newly drawn House District 98, a heavily Democratic area that was largely represented by outgoing state Rep. Mitch Landrieu.
In other House races, the Alliance backed incumbents Rosalind Peychaud for HD91, Karen Carter for HD93, Arthur Morrell for HD97, Pat Swilling for HD100, Cedric Richmond for HD101 and Kenneth Odinet for HD103, whose district includes parts of eastern New Orleans and the lower Ninth Ward.
In Senate District 1 -- state Sen. Lyn Dean's old seat, which includes St. Bernard, Plaquemines and the Lake Catherine community of Orleans Parish -- the Alliance supported businessman Walter Boasso.