One of the arguments whispered in favor of Mayor Marc Morial's "3T" referendum is that no one else on the radar screen measures up to him as mayoral timber. Here we are just five months before election day, they smugly note, and no one has emerged as the leading pretender to Maximus' throne.
Those who make that argument have convenient memories.
Eight years ago this week, Morial himself was not yet a candidate for mayor. In fact, in the "pre-season" stages of the 1994 mayor's race, it was Sybil Morial, not Marc, whose name was most frequently mentioned as the leading contender. Only after la reine-mére decided not to run did le petit prince emerge as a candidate.
And he hardly cleared the field. Six other major candidates also ran for mayor that year, along with a handful of lesser lights. Morial was just a first-term legislator -- with less than two years of public service under his belt -- when he announced for mayor in the autumn of 1993.
For Morial and his minions to smugly declare now that those who would succeed him don't measure up is to forget that he, too, had to grow into the job -- as do most mayors.
So who might fill Mayor Maximus' shoes? Let us count the obvious and not-so-obvious contenders.
City Councilmen Jim Singleton and Troy Carter both want to be mayor, and for the 70-something Singleton it's now or never. Singleton is the dean of the council and is widely considered its resident expert on budgetary matters. He's finishing his second term as an at-large councilman, after serving as District B councilman for four terms.
The younger and more telegenic Carter appears to hold a slight edge in the polls right now, but the race hasn't yet begun. He represents District C, which includes Algiers, the French Quarter, Treme, Marigny, Bywater and parts of Mid-City.
There's also state Sen. Paulette Irons, D-New Orleans, who holds the Senate seat Morial himself vacated to become mayor. Her district includes much of the Lakefront, Mid-City and the French Quarter.
All three are African-American, and all three have demonstrated an ability to attract substantial white support.
But it's these same three that 3T backers claim pale in comparison to Mayor Maximus. Assuming for the moment that that argument is a good one, is there anybody else?
Of course there is.
Several other potential candidates could jump into the race. Some are genuine dark horses while others have "front-runner" potential. For example:
· Congressman Bill Jefferson ran for mayor twice before -- once against Dutch Morial in 1982 and once with Dutch's support in 1986. He has been in Congress for 11 years, but many suspect he (and his siblings) would love to do a turn or two at City Hall. If he runs, he'll instantly be a favorite.
· Police Chief Richard Pennington was hired by Morial and has turned NOPD around. Many would love to see him step up if his boss is forced into retirement. Like Jefferson, the popular chief would be an instant front-runner.
· If the Morial faction needs a candidate, City Councilman Marlin Gusman could get the nod. Gusman got his start in politics under Dutch Morial, then became Marc's chief administrative officer. He's been on the council representing District D for 18 months -- about as long as Marc Morial served in the state Senate before running for mayor.
· City Council President Eddie Sapir says he's running for re-election to the council and isn't even thinking about running for mayor. But, after Oct. 20, he may re-think his options. Sapir has only had one term on the council, so he's not facing the "up or out" choice that confronts Singleton and Carter.
· Among the dark horses, Judge Dennis Bagneris of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal has been mentioned by some black leaders who are looking for a fresh face. He was president pro tempore of the state Senate before winning a seat on the same bench that Dutch Morial left to become mayor in 1978.
Could any of them grow into Maximus' job?
Less than eight years ago, people were asking the same question about Marc Morial.