As Election Day dawned Oct. 14, many worried — and Secretary of State Tom Schedler predicted — that turnout would be abysmally low. Schedler even offered to eat crow, literally, if statewide turnout hit just 15 percent. It didn't, though it did reach nearly 32 percent in New Orleans, where the ballot included hotly contested races for mayor, all seven City Council seats and two judgeships. Statewide, the main attraction was a low-key contest for state treasurer. As Jeremy Alford of LaPoliticsNow put it, the low turnout "basically means that 400,000 voters collectively called the shots for Louisiana's entire electorate, which numbers around 2.9 million voters."
While the rest of the state may not have been fired up about the treasurer's race, New Orleanians had no excuse for not voting in larger numbers. The mayoral and council races had forums galore, offering voters many opportunities to see and hear the candidates. Locally, voters have a chance to do better on Nov. 18, when they will choose a new mayor and settle two still-undecided City Council elections. There's also a statewide runoff for treasurer.
Much has been said about voters' lack of enthusiasm about the 2017 crop of candidates, but the simple truth is that either District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell or former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet will become New Orleans' next mayor on May 7, 2018. The winner will lead New Orleans' tricentennial celebration and face some of the most daunting challenges in our city's history.
Speaking of history, this election will give New Orleans its first woman mayor. The two candidates' positions on the issues are more matters of degree than fundamental governing philosophy. Each is supported — and opposed — by well-known big-money donors. Cantrell has a council voting record on which she can be judged; Charbonnet has a long history on the bench and in the Recorder of Mortgages office.
Their campaign styles differ significantly. Charbonnet is a traditional "establishment" candidate who is backed by a horde of city contractors and some well-known political operatives. Her campaign raised almost as much as her two closest rivals combined. Cantrell is cut from the "populist" mold, having started as a neighborhood association leader and community activist. Her campaign relied more on volunteers, yet she led the 18-candidate field by more than 8 percentage points on Election Day.
Other races to be decided on Nov. 18 include the District B City Council seat, where Jay Banks and Seth Bloom offer contrasting choices; and in District E, where incumbent Councilman James Gray will defend his seat against community activist Cyndi Nguyen.
If you want proof that every vote really does count, consider the just-concluded District C City Council race in which former Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer beat incumbent Nadine Ramsey by a mere 111 votes — fewer than 1 percent of the total votes cast. New Orleans' next mayor will make history for reasons far more important than gender. Along with the new City Council, she will chart our city's first steps into its fourth century. If you live in New Orleans, your vote will determine the direction those steps take.