Like a frustrated younger sibling, recent elections in New Orleans have had to compete for attention. Earlier this year, candidates for mayor and the City Council were forced to contend with two weeks of Carnival parades and the Super Bowl. Last week, an approaching storm distracted voters from focusing on the elections this Saturday (Oct. 5).
Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Louis Keller, noting that the governor has the power to postpone an election in the event of an emergency, believes that even with fair weather on Election Day, voter turnout will likely be lower than normal. "I would say it is going to be close to 55 percent," Keller says. Meanwhile, voting officials at the office of Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court Jon A. Gegenheimer declined to hazard an estimate of voter enthusiasm.
Barring the threat of another hurricane, flood or other natural disaster, area voters will head to the polls Saturday to choose a number of important judicial, municipal and parochial officials. Any runoffs will be Nov. 5. We make the following recommendations:
· New Orleans District Attorney. We strongly reaffirm last week's endorsement of Dale Atkins. A veteran clerk of Civil District Court and a former prosecutor, Atkins will help speed up the administration of justice, especially for women and child victims of domestic violence. She combines integrity, independence and impartiality -- qualities New Orleans needs in its top prosecutor.
· Public Service Commissioner, District 1. The state Public Service Commission is a powerful regulatory agency whose stewardship includes many public utilities, the telecommunications industry and common carriers. The panel's five commissioners serve six-year terms. District 1 covers nine parishes, including parts of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany.
Incumbent Jay Blossman won the office in 1996 on an admirable campaign pledge not to accept any campaign contributions from entities regulated by the PSC; he effectively self-financed his first campaign for public office. Now up for re-election, Blossman accepts legal campaign contributions from the industries regulated by the PSC, but says the hundreds of thousands of dollars pumped into his campaign coffers have not influenced any of his votes on the commission. Unencumbered by the moral self-constraints that first endeared him to voters, Blossman is drowning lone opponent John Schwegmann with pricey television commercials. "It's not easy to raise money, first of all, so you have to go to people that you see on a day-to-day basis with the commission," says Blossman, a Republican, who now invites any critics to change state campaign finance laws.
Fortunately, there is a more immediate alternative. Schwegmann, an independent, has embraced the same campaign financing promise that Blossman has dropped. Schwegmann served admirably on the PSC for 16 years. Now, he's ready to serve again. He has an institutional memory that will serve the commission well on many technical issues, especially those regarding utility regulation. He will be a commissioner for the consumer. We endorse John Schwegmann.
· Constable, 1st City Court. Incumbent Lambert C. Boissiere III has struggled -- honestly, we feel -- during his first six-year term as executive officer for the court, which oversees landlord-tenants disputes and other legal matters involving less than $20,000. Boissiere has worked hard to modernize an antiquated office. He has started a program to decrease tenant evictions. In addition, he has responded aggressively to concerns raised by Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle. For example, Boissiere ended last year with a $254,949 deficit -- in part, he says, because of the emergency replacement of the old office computer system that suddenly "crashed." The constable has pledged to eliminate the deficit within two years and has hired a CPA to address such issues. We endorse Lambert Boissiere III.
· Recorder of Mortgages. Incumbent Desiree Charbonnet is fighting off a strong challenge from Mike McCrossen, whom she defeated six years ago. We endorsed McCrossen then, but we have found Charbonnet candid and responsive to constructive criticism. Her wise hiring of chief clerk Carol Carter has improved service to the lawyers, title companies and other frequent users who rely on the office to facilitate important financial transactions all over town. Consequently, the recorder's office today is substantially better than it has ever been. We endorse Desiree Charbonnet.
· Register of Conveyances. Located in the basement of Civil District Court next to the recorder of mortgages, incumbent register Gasper Schiro has begun transferring all recorded deeds, including residential and commercial property transfers, into a Windows-based computer system. He estimates the transfer will save taxpayers $700,000. His capable staff speaks Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Italian and Portuguese. Gasper Schiro gets our enthusiastic endorsement.
This newspaper does not issue endorsements in judicial elections. However, we urge voters to study the non-partisan League of Women Voters "Fall 2002 Election Guide" and our own special pullout on the elections, inserted elsewhere in this issue, before heading to the polls.
Mardi Gras and hurricanes are part of living in New Orleans, but so are elections and their after-effects. We urge all our readers to vote on Saturday, Oct. 5.