Mayor Ray Nagin has endorsed a mixed bag of candidates in the Nov. 15 runoff, and his anticipated support of Republican Bobby Jindal for governor will only mix things up further.
Hizzoner says his touchstone in each election is the same -- what's best for New Orleans. Here's an overview of where he is in local runoffs:
Uptown. A rematch in House District 91 features Democrats Jalila Jefferson, daughter of Congressman Bill Jefferson, and incumbent Rep. Rosalind Peychaud, who won by a scant 110 votes shortly after Nagin won the mayor's race. In the first Jefferson-Peychaud contest, Nagin tacitly backed Peychaud as payback to the congressman, who directed Pennington's highly negative campaign against Nagin for mayor. This time Nagin is backing Jefferson -- partly to mend fences with her dad and partly to punish Peychaud for allegedly playing some political games with Nagin's legislative agenda. But the politics of this contest are muddled. Many of Nagin's white and middle-class black supporters don't trust Papa Jeff and are sticking with Peychaud. Jefferson was considered an early favorite, but lower black turnout in the primary and Peychaud's tenacity have made this race another cliffhanger. In the end, I get the feeling Nagin won't shed any tears if Jefferson loses again -- but if she wins, he'll share the credit.
Elsewhere Uptown, two candidates are vying for an open seat in House District 98, an area formerly represented by Lt. Gov.-elect Mitch Landrieu. Nagin is neutral in the contest between Democrat Cheryl Gray and Republican Randy Evans, reportedly having an equal number of friends and foes in both camps. Gray is the daughter of Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine Gray and one-time DA candidate James Gray, who ran third in that race with Nagin's endorsement.
Downtown. In Senate District 2, which covers most of the Ninth Ward, veteran incumbent Jon Johnson faces challenger Ann Duplessis, a banker and civic leader. Both are Democrats. Here again Nagin is officially neutral, although many of his supporters are backing Duplessis. Johnson fell just a few hundred votes short of an outright victory in the primary, but now it's back to square one. By choosing not to play, Nagin effectively is helping Duplessis.
In the Lower Nine, Nagin has joined a host of other officials and political organizations in opposing incumbent Rep. Leonard Lucas, who posted the worst finish in the primary of any incumbent -- just 23 percent. Nagin is backing attorney Charmaine Marchand, who ran first with 36 percent and who looks solidly poised to win. Here again the mayor is dishing out some payback. Lucas was among several lawmakers who took potshots at the mayor and his legislative program during the last session.
In eastern New Orleans, Nagin is officially backing former Saints star and freshman Rep. Pat Swilling, who led the three-candidate field with 43 percent. Nagin's endorsement is lukewarm, however. Swilling backed Nagin in the mayor's race and wisely got his signature on an endorsement affidavit. Now Nagin's not so enthusiastic about Swilling, who reportedly joined several other lawmakers to mess with Nagin during the last session. Swilling says he's learned his lesson, but his opponent, Austin Badon Jr., is making a big push with support from third-place finisher Dana Henry.
Citywide. Nagin is staying neutral in the race for judge of Criminal District Court, even though one of his top assistant city attorneys, Franz Zibilich, is in the runoff. In the race for clerk of Criminal Court, Nagin is backing former City Councilman Johnny Jackson Jr., who has pledged to help make the office appointive and to reduce the amount of money the office costs the city. Nagin likes those reforms -- but he needs to beat Jackson's opponent, former Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Williamson Butler, even more. Nagin fired Butler after her brief but stormy tenure at City Hall, and his aides fear she will use the office to undercut Nagin politically if she wins.
As a non-politician, Nagin is learning the oldest rule in the game: what goes around comes around. And payback is such a bitch.