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A Watershed Ballot



Every election since Katrina has been a watershed, and each new round of elections seems to grow in significance. That certainly appears to be the case as the fall 2008 elections approach. Consider what's on the ballot in New Orleans, and consider that all of the races will be hotly contested — a presidential race, a U.S. Senate race, congressional races with brand-new or seriously weakened incumbents, a wide-open race for district attorney, all district court judgeships, an open state Supreme Court seat and all Orleans Parish School Board seats. Here's a closer look at each:

President — We still don't know who will be the Democratic nominee, but we do know that the next president will have a huge impact on local recovery efforts. U.S. Sens. John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all have voting records on matters pertaining to our needs. Those records will be touted and dissected, giving the next presidential contest a decidedly more "local" flavor than usual.

U.S. Senate — Mary Landrieu is once again up against it, but she also is proving, once again, that she is a much better campaigner than her opponents expect her to be. She has millions in the bank and another bank of endorsements from local Republican officials. Still, her chances will hinge on voter turnout. If the Democratic nominee is Obama, she'll get a big boost in black turnout. If it's Clinton, her opponents will try to hang Hillary around Landrieu's neck. For her part, Landrieu will remind voters that she's now the senior unindicted member of the Louisiana delegation, and her seat (as well as her seniority) on the Appropriations and Energy committees have been lynchpins of local recovery efforts.

Congress — Louisiana will see competitive races in four of its seven districts because of incumbents who retired, won promotions or were indicted. It's not clear yet who Bill Jefferson's major challenger will be, but it's a safe bet he will have one or more. His legal troubles have crippled his fundraising efforts, and the dismantling of his local political machine will hurt him on Election Day.

District Attorney — New Orleans will see a wide-open race for DA, and the field is just beginning to take shape. Former First Assistant DA Ralph Capitelli and federal prosecutor Linda Bizzarro have declared, interim incumbent Keva Landrum-Johnson is flirting with the race, and appellate Judge Leon Cannizzaro must soon decide whether to leave the bench in order to run. This race will say a lot about who's back and who's voting, and that will have a huge impact on the 2010 mayor's race, which is only 15 months after the DA's runoff.

District Court Judgeships — The civil and criminal courts in New Orleans are scheduled to merge on Jan. 1, 2009, and several judges already have announced their retirements. That could bring a new generation of judges to Civil and Criminal District courts. As in other local contests, race will be a big factor in both the behind-the-scenes and Election Day politics of these contests.

Supreme Court — The seat long held by retiring Chief Justice Pascal Calogero will be up for grabs. The district includes part of Orleans and Jefferson parishes and all of St. Tammany, Washington, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes. In addition to a potential philosophical shift on the court, the district will mirror some of the dynamics in the First Congressional District in that it is divided by Lake Pontchartrain, which could make it another Northshore versus Southshore contest.

Orleans Parish School Board — These races could produce a huge turnover and thus redefine public school politics and policies for a generation. Among the big issues will be whether the Recovery School District should remain in charge of so many local schools beyond its initial five-year compact, and whether to continue, expand or retrench the nation's most far-reaching experiment with charter schools.

As long as that list is, it still doesn't take into account any deaths, indictments or resignations that might come between now and Labor Day. Stay tuned.

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