The frontrunners — State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans; District B Councilwoman Stacy Head; and former state Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis — were joined by four other candidates, including perennial gadflies William "Poppa" Gant, Andrew Gressett and Norbert Rome. Gressett, who has been critical of Head in the past, kept his shots at the councilwoman brief and oblique.
But it was the seventh candidate — the only one who had never run for public office — who stirred the audience. Gary Landrieu, a building contractor and cousin of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, is a physically imposing, vigorous fellow with a shaved head and an impeccable power suit. He spent much of the forum furiously taking notes on a legal pad and delivering his answers with macho energy.
Asked what his first three priorities would be, Gary Landrieu said his first objectives would include eliminating the despised traffic cameras and "make it easy to do business at City Hall." He complained that the mayor and Gov. Bobby Jindal have a "broken relationship" (affixing the blame not to his cousin, but to Jindal) and said the solution to New Orleans' ongoing fiscal crisis is to sell Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport — an idea first broached in 2002 by then-candidate Ray Nagin. Later in the debate, when asked how he would fund Sewerage and Water Board repairs, Landrieu snapped, "Sell. The. Airport." — punctuating it with jabs from his legal pad.
It was a warm evening, and even though the candidates as well as the small audience were a little droopy by the forum's end, Landrieu had lost none of his energy. In his closing remarks, he said: "Have you felt betrayed by trusted leaders who have sold you out?" he bellowed, jolting the audience to attention.
In a poll of 400 likely voters conducted in early February and commissioned by Head, Landrieu polled at 3 percent, well behind the three frontrunners but ahead of the other candidates. — Kevin Allman