Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who represented District E on the New Orleans City Council from 2000 to 2010 and represented New Orleans East in the state legislature for seven years before that, will challenge District E incumbent James Gray in the Feb. 1 municipal election. She is set to make her formal campaign announcement Thursday night at a reception in New Orleans East.
Willard-Lewis lost races for at-large positions on the council in both 2007 and 2010, and was term limited out of the District E seat in 2010. That year, she ran for the Louisiana State Senate in a special election to replace Ann Duplessis, who was joining the administration of Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Willard-Lewis won that race, only to lose the seat two years later due to redistricting.
The District E seat has had its share of both personal and political drama in recent elections.
In the 2010 council race, Willard-Lewis endorsed former State Sen. Jon Johnson, who beat State Rep. Austin Badon for the position but who stepped down abruptly in July 2012 amid charges of financial impropriety. Johnson was convicted of using FEMA funds for his political campaign and served six months in federal prison before being released in July 2013.
A special election was held in 2012 with Badon and attorney James Gray vying to replace Johnson. Willard-Lewis would have been a natural frontrunner to recapture her old position, but she suffered a diabetic stroke that year, though family and friends said she recovered quickly from her health setbacks.
A judge later ruled her ineligible to run for her old seat due to term limits restrictions in the city charter, and that year, Willard-Lewis ended up endorsing Gray, who bested Badon with the help of some of the city's political establishment, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Gray had run for district attorney in 2002, placing third.
Willard-Lewis has allied with Landrieu in the past and would likely be a reliable vote in the mayor's council coalition if she wins — but the fact that Landrieu endorsed Gray just last year adds an interesting wrinkle to a race that's likely to be a hot one.
Willard-Lewis did not return a call for comment this morning.