While the mayoral runoff between Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu captures most of the headlines, a majority of the City Council seats are still up for grabs on May 20. Three of the four remaining council contests feature incumbents fighting for their political lives.
Three council races were won by incumbents in the April 22 primary. Oliver Thomas easily reclaimed his at-large seat against a field of 10 opponents; Cynthia Hedge Morrell won a full term in District D after winning a special election last year; and Cynthia Willard-Lewis coasted to re-election in District E.
The remaining contests are for the second at-large seat and for seats representing Districts A, B and C. Here's a closer look at each of the unresolved council races:
At Large -- Jackie Clarkson gave up what would have been a cakewalk back to her District C seat to run at-large. She announced shortly before Hurricane Katrina struck, then stuck by her decision to run citywide. Her runoff opponent, former New Orleans Saints exec Arnie Fielkow, made his political debut in stunning fashion by surging past the other eight contenders to finish less than 6,000 votes behind Clarkson, who is a veteran campaigner.
Clarkson garnered 22 percent of the vote to Fielkow's 18 percent. Geographically, Clarkson ran strong in her home base of Algiers, while Fielkow did well Uptown. They split Lakeview. In the runoff, black voters likely will determine which of these two white Democrats will win the race. If Thomas were to take a position -- and he has not said that he will -- he could probably tip the balance in either direction.
Otherwise, both Clarkson and Fielkow have picked up a passel of endorsements. Most of the unsuccessful at-large candidates have announced their support for Fielkow, while Clarkson won the backing of Willard-Lewis, Morrell and various parochial officials.
Unlike the mayoral race and some other council races, this race is likely to remain a high-road affair. Neither Clarkson nor Fielkow has ever been touched by scandal, and both are considered good-government types.
District A -- Incumbent Jay Batt, a Republican, faces Democrat Shelley Stephenson Midura in the Uptown-Carrollton-Lakeview district that also includes pieces of Mid-City and Faubourg St. John. Batt carried Uptown and Lakeview while Midura won Carrollton and most of the Mid-City and Faubourg St. John neighborhoods. He garnered 40 percent of the primary vote to her 28 percent.
The race turned bitter early on, then intensified. Midura benefited from a grassroots "Anybody But Batt" campaign that included lawn signs and radio ads, but most voters still don't know much about her. Batt got into hot water in the Carrollton area years ago for supporting Stuart Hall School's successful efforts to expand and for backing a scaled-down version of the Bruno's tavern renovation. Batt says he has consistently supported the recommendations of the City Planning Commission and points to revisions in several developments that he demanded as a result of neighborhood concerns.
Batt has by far the larger war chest and the endorsement of the Alliance for Good Government, but money and endorsements can only do so much in a district that is the wealthiest and most educated in town.
District B -- Incumbent Rene Gill Pratt won 40 percent of the primary vote to attorney Stacy Head's 38 percent, making this race the closest in town. Both women are Democrats. The district includes the Central Business District, the Warehouse District, the Garden District, Central City, Gert Town and parts of Uptown. By neighborhood, the vote split along racial lines. Gill Pratt is black and Head is white.
Like the at-large race, the two leading candidates have stayed positive in their campaign literature and rhetoric. Gill Pratt has stressed her experience on the council and her prior years in the state Legislature. Head has emphasized her experience as a home renovator and attorney who gets things done.
In this contest, turnout will be the key. The district is heavily African-American in voter registration, but most of its displaced residents are black.
District C -- This race featured the most impressive field of candidates in the primary, including one former council member. Attorney James Carter and civic leader Kristin Giselson Palmer led the field, with Carter capturing 33 percent of the vote to Palmer's 22 percent. Both are Democrats, and both are from Algiers.
The district includes all of Algiers, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Treme, Bywater, most of Esplanade Ridge and parts of the Upper Ninth Ward. Carter was the only African-American candidate in this slightly black-majority district, so his first-place showing was not surprising. In the runoff, the East Bank precincts -- most of which were carried by runner-up Jane Booth -- will likely decide the winner. Here again, the contest has been devoid of attacks or other forms of negative campaigning.