It's qualifying time in Louisiana -- time to put up or shut up. For months we've heard speculation of all sorts about who's running for what. Come Friday at 5 p.m., we'll know who's in the game and who's watching from the sidelines.
The hottest local races are those for the Orleans Parish School Board and the contest for the unfinished term of former Criminal Sheriff (now state attorney general) Charles Foti Jr.
One of the seven school board members, 20-year veteran Gail Glapion, has already announced her retirement. All others will likely face significant challenges in the wake of the controversy over the attempted firing of popular School Superintendent Tony Amato.
In the sheriff's race, interim Sheriff William Hunter will try to win by election the job he landed by appointment from Foti. By all accounts, Hunter has done a good job. However, he's by no means a well-known political figure or a battle-tested candidate.
Others who have announced as of press time include Warren Riley, who until recently was a deputy chief at the New Orleans Police Department (and who is rumored to be Mayor Ray Nagin's candidate); former Criminal Court Judge Morris Reed, who by now has achieved the unenviable status of perennial candidate (having lost a string of races in the last decade) but who nonetheless has the potential to get a lot of votes against a field of lesser-knowns; retired NOPD Lt. Carl Haydel; Ira Thomas, executive administrator of security and investigations for New Orleans Public Schools; and attorney David Capasso.
One political wag described that field as "a bunch of $3,000 claimers," which is racetrack lingo for a race featuring seriously undistinguished runners. Most of the speculation about the criminal sheriff's race in the past few weeks has centered on the question of which if any well-known name would make the race. Those who reportedly have thought about it include:
• City Councilman Marlin Gusman. He is not term-limited, so there's no "up or out" pressure on his political career track. On the other hand, he brings significant political and professional qualifications to the race. As a former CAO, he supervised the police chief and ran all city departments under former Mayor Marc Morial -- and he was point man on the city budget. He is an attorney and a CPA.
• City Council President Eddie Sapir. An attorney and proven citywide vote-getter, Sapir has great political skills on the campaign trail and in office. He is term-limited, but he may be reluctant to put his black political base to the test against a field that includes several African-American contenders.
• Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo Jr. He already is 100 percent vested in the judges' retirement system, so his continued service on the bench isn't making him wealthier. On the other hand, he has Sapir's problem of straining his black political base in a race for an office that black leaders have waited decades for a chance to capture.
• Traffic Court Judge Paul Bonin. He's not as well known as Sapir or Marullo, but he has a tremendous citywide following. Both he and Marullo would have to give up their judgeships to seek this office. That's a lot for a white candidate to risk just to enter a race that likely will require beating an African-American candidate in a head-to-head runoff on Nov. 2 -- presidential election day, which typically sees the highest black voter turnout in the city's four-year election cycle. The city electorate is more than two-thirds African American.
• State Rep. Edwin Murray. His district includes Gentilly, Treme and part of the French Quarter, and he's considered the leader of the local delegation in Baton Rouge. He's also one of the go-to guys in the Legislative Black Caucus. Murray, an attorney, is also a retired Army Reserve military police officer, so he brings both law enforcement and military qualifications to the job.
My sources tell me that Gusman will announce that he's running on Tuesday, the day before qualifying opens. That could clear the rest of the "maybes" out of the field. Or, it could push some into the fray. We'll know by 5 p.m. Friday, by which time everyone will have to put up or shut up.