Paul Valteau quit while he was ahead -- way ahead. A poll taken for the civil sheriff last month showed he was the clear frontrunner in the Sept. 18 primary election for the office of criminal sheriff that Charles Foti left earlier this year, following Foti's election Nov. 15 as state attorney general. Valteau, an attorney, last week backed away from plans to formally announce his candidacy in mid-July.
Valteau's surprise retreat throws the criminal sheriff's race wide open with just three weeks left before qualifying (Aug. 4-6). "It was his to lose," says pollster Silas Lee III, who conducted a poll for Valteau last month. "You usually don't see people decide not to run when they are ahead."
Valteau campaign consultants Danae Columbus and Allan Katz late last week issued the following statement: "Being criminal sheriff is a 24/7 job. And (former) Sheriff Foti was able to devote himself to the job 24/7. Valteau has a full life with family, children and outside business interests. All the people who loved him, begged him not to make the race. In the end, that was the most important factor."
Yet a June 21 memorandum to Valteau by pollster Lee shows that voters were not sure if the popular Valteau had a plan for protecting the public as the city's jail keeper. "Ironically, voters see Valteau as best qualified to be criminal sheriff, but it does not translate to voters believing that he has a plan to ensure the safety of citizens as 50 percent could not identify a particular plan to address this issue," Lee wrote in the memorandum, which the campaign released to Gambit Weekly late last month.
The Lee poll of 600 Orleans Parish voters conducted early last month left some political tea leaves for politicos. It shows that the two most important duties expected of the criminal sheriff are keeping criminals in jail (92 percent) and "ensuring that the rights of those arrested are not violated" (80 percent).
The poll showed Valteau led a field of potential challengers to succeed Foti with 37 percent, followed by undecided at 33 percent, City Councilman Eddie Sapir at 14 percent, former Criminal Court Judge Morris Reed and retired New Orleans police Lt. Carl Haydel tied at 7 percent, and political unknown Patrick Giraud at 3 percent. The poll did not include NOPD Deputy Superintendent Warren Riley, who announced his candidacy after the survey was completed in mid-June.
Valteau had the highest positive rating at 62 percent, followed by Sapir at 54 percent. "Potential challenger Morris Reed had the highest negative rating at 44 percent, which exceeded his positive rating of 25 percent." The memo concludes: "The sooner we articulate our vision and plan to make the community safer, we neutralize the voices of our opponents on this issue and others." But by late last week, the only reading material the sheriff had released was a picture book for children titled: Hi, Kids. I'm Sheriff Paul Valteau.