Who's moving in next year?
No two elections are alike, but this year’s race for mayor of New Orleans reminds me (so far) of the 2002 mayor’s race. Ray Nagin won that contest, but don’t panic. I don’t see another Nagin in our future. What looks familiar is the slow pace at which the field is taking shape and the lack of a clear front runner, at least as this stage.
Now consider this factoid: the last three mayors didn’t announce their candidacies until shortly before qualifying. That’s what leads some to whisper that we haven’t yet heard the name of the next mayor.
Of course, two of those three late-entry candidates were named Morial and Landrieu. They didn’t need to start early. The third was Nagin, and he won mainly because the eventual front runner, then-state Sen. Paulette Irons, imploded in the final weeks.
I don’t see any of this year’s candidates imploding, but I do see other parallels between this year’s race and the one that gave us Nagin.
In both contests, a handful of qualified hopefuls declared their intentions, but none caught fire early. One difference is that this year none of the announced major candidates — former Judges Michael Bagneris and Desiree Charbonnet, and District Councilmember LaToya Cantrell — is a household name citywide.
Bagneris has by far the most and broadest experience, as did then-Councilman Jim Singleton in 2002. Bagneris, like Singleton, also is the oldest (at 67) of the candidates, and New Orleans has a long history of electing young mayors. That could change, of course.
What also could change is the fact that New Orleans has a history of electing male mayors. Cantrell and Charbonnet hope to catch what many see as the next wave of city politics: a woman mayor. Women have held a majority of the City Council seats for more than a decade, and women comprise more than 56 percent of the city’s electorate. Women also turn out in larger proportions than men. If women decide it’s their turn, it’s their turn.
Race is not an issue but it’s always a factor, perhaps more so now in light of the Confederate monuments controversy. Will a major white candidate offer himself or herself for mayor? Local white businessman and monument supporter Frank Scurlock has officially announced, but politically and financially he trails his African-American opponents.
Speculation abounds that another white businessman, Sidney Torres, is considering the race. Interestingly, Torres comes closest to being a household name in the city, but he has no political experience — other than, like Nagin in 2002, having had business dealings with City Hall. Nagin didn’t get to be a household name until about five weeks before the 2002 primary, which proves that people pay more attention to who picks up their trash than who provides their cable service.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Walt Leger III had assembled a campaign team months ago, then put them all “on hold.” If either or both Leger and Torres run, it would scramble things aplenty. Both need to decide soon — qualifying is just three weeks away (July 12-14).
With or without a last-minute surprise candidate, it’s going to be an interesting — and unique — election.