New Orleans voters are on the verge of making history. We'll likely elect our first woman mayor or, for the first time in more than a century, our first new mayor over the age of 65. In fact, we haven't elected a new mayor over the age of 50 since Andrew McShane won the office in 1920.
No, I didn't cover that race. I had to look it up online.
As the week of early voting opened for the Oct. 14 primary, all eyes were on early front-runner Desiree Charbonnet, who resigned her judgeship at Municipal Court to seek the mayor's job. Many are wondering if Charbonnet lost her early momentum in the past week or two in the wake of quasi-anonymous attack fliers mailed mostly to white households.
Dubbed "The Desiree Charbonnet Tales" and published by a PAC calling itself "notforsalenola.com," the fliers blast Charbonnet for allegedly being "the queen of patronage" who indulges in "cronyism, corruption and sweetheart deals."
Mostly, the fliers focus on some of Charbonnet's top political backers: Congressman Cedric Richmond; attorney Ike Spears, a veteran political player in New Orleans with close ties to Richmond; bail bondsman Blair Boutte, another Richmond ally who works closely with Spears; and Charbonnet's brother Bernard "Bunny" Charbonnet, also an attorney.
This is just my opinion, but I doubt that any of the fliers, by themselves, did much damage to Charbonnet. None of them exposed a smoking gun — despite the suggestive headlines — and other than Richmond, none of the players listed in the fliers is a household name in New Orleans, though all are well-known in political circles. Collectively, however, they may create just enough doubts about Charbonnet to weaken her even if she lands a runoff spot.
Ironically, if Charbonnet falters at all in the closing days, it may be the result of a self-inflicted wound. She bailed last week on a televised candidate forum hosted by businessman Sidney Torres' political action committee, Voice of the People, hours before the event. She attributed her decision not to participate to the fact that two local television journalists backed out at the last minute for "ethical reasons" — but she never articulated why appearing at a PAC-sponsored forum posed an ethical dilemma for candidates. Truth is, candidates appear before political action committees all the time seeking endorsements and support — and Torres' PAC isn't even endorsing any candidates. Her absence was noted several times during the debate.
Worse for Charbonnet, the popular businessman posted a scathing rebuke of her on his Facebook page, saying she "decided to snub the voters of New Orleans" and alleging that "members of her campaign team were aggressively lobbying other campaigns to withdraw" at the last minute. "Her decision is disappointing but mostly alarming," Torres concluded. "The next mayor of New Orleans will face tough challenges, if a candidate can't face tough questions why should we believe they can handle a tough assignment ahead?"
It will be interesting to see if Torres' broadside scores a more direct hit than the "notforsalenola" bombardments. For all we know, the attacks might even backfire. It's been a strange election cycle, and history does not appear to offer any hint of what's to come.