Now that qualifying is over, we can see exactly how crazy this year's elections are likely to be. The overwhelming sentiment among politicos at 5:01 p.m. last Thursday was, "We can't make this stuff up."
Here's a quick overview of some of the most interesting local races we'll see between now and Oct. 20:
• Baker's Dozen -- Thirteen candidates qualified for the New Orleans Council at-Large seat vacated by Oliver Thomas. The special election has a mix of old, familiar faces, some newcomers -- and a dash of nuttiness. The well-known candidates include term-limited state Sen. Diana Bajoie, recent mayoral candidate Virginia Boulet, former Councilmember Jackie Clarkson and District E Councilmember Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who will be term-limited in 2010. Among the new but otherwise familiar faces are radio talk show host Kaare Johnson, local activist Malcolm Suber and CPA and Sewerage and Water Board member Tommie Vassel. Look for former Clerk of Criminal Court and failed mayoral candidate Kimberly Williamson-Butler and Dyan "Mama D" French to supply entertainment value.
• The Serpent's Tooth -- King Lear's lament took the form of political payback in two local contests as sons chose to run against their fathers. In St. Bernard Parish, incumbent Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez saw his son, Henry Joseph Rodriguez III, qualify against him. "Tee-Junior" says he loves his dad, but, well, that's politics in Da Parish. Junior Rodriguez has several major opponents in addition to the aggravation of his son's candidacy. Meanwhile, in Jefferson, Councilman at-Large John Young Jr., a popular first-term Republican, no doubt watched in amazement as his 22-year-old son, John Young, a college student with no party affiliation, qualified against him. Young pere has only one other opponent and is favored to win easily, but the candidacy of Young fil has to be a source of discomfort -- all of which is related to ...
• Mud-Wrestling Mamas -- State Sen. Julie Quinn of Metairie, a first-term Republican whose district also includes parts of Uptown and the Northshore, faces the ex-wife of her current beau, the above-mentioned John Young pere. Young and Quinn both went through bitter divorces since they last ran for office and have since found each other -- much to the apparent ire of the former Mrs. Young, former TV news anchor Mary Lou McCall, who qualified against Quinn. McCall, who suffered an ignominious fall from TV grace after a bout with severe alcoholism, seemed to be on a tear last week. In addition to qualifying against Quinn, she also sued retired New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan, her TV co-host for 19 years, for breach of contract, defamation and violation of her pension rights. Quinn also faces the woman she beat several years ago in a bitterly contested special election, state Rep. Dianne Winston of Covington. Others in the race include Dr. Monica Monica of Metairie, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress against David Vitter in 1999; state Rep. Alex Heaton of New Orleans; and Doug Johnson of Hammond. All are Republicans, and all look to be well financed except McCall. Then again, many suspect Quinn's ex, hotelier Pat Quinn, would be only too willing to help unseat his former spouse. This could become the muddiest race in the state.
• Changing Complexion? -- The Uptown New Orleans state Senate district that launched Congressman Bill Jefferson's career may shift back to a white voting majority as a result of Hurricane Katrina. No doubt that's what prompted former appeals court judge David Williams -- who also used to be a Republican -- to jump into this race. Williams won't be the only pale face in the crowd. Perennial candidate Andrew Gressett, a Republican, also is running. Adding interest and intrigue are three African-American female candidates, two of whom are risking safe House seats to seek this Senate prize: state Reps. Jalila Jefferson, daughter of the embattled congressman, and Cheryl Gray, as well as former Public Service Commissioner Irma Muse Dixon. Turnout is always crucial in political campaigns, but it will be everything in this contest.
• East vs. West -- In bi-coastal Senate District 3, incumbent Sen. Derrick Shepherd of Marrero faces Shawn Barney of New Orleans. Shepherd captured the seat in a May 2005 special election that saw extremely low voter turnout in the New Orleans portion of the district, which straddles the Mississippi River. Orleans Parish has by far the most registered voters in this district, but post-Katrina there's no telling how many will turn out. Then again, most Jefferson Parish Council and parish-wide incumbents have no opposition this year, so there's not much driving turnout on the West Bank either. Shepherd has lost favor among many of his East Bank constituents because of his brash, often tactless style. Barney, son of the late Urban League president Clarence Barney, is said to be amassing support among East Bank organizations and neighborhood groups.
These are just some of the races that will be worth watching this year.