A crowded field with some high-profile names could be shaping up for the Oct. 24 citywide election to fill a new, legislatively created, at-large seat on the Baton Rouge City Court.
The three-day candidate qualifying period for the special election is still more than seven weeks away, but that hasn’t stopped East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Tarvald Smith from putting up campaign signs and declaring he’s running for the seat.
Smith, who also serves as a public defender in Baker City Court, could have plenty of competition by the time qualifying ends Sept. 10.
Others expressing interest in the City Court seat include Whitney Higginbotham Greene, an assistant state attorney general; Judy Moore Vendetto, a 19th Judicial District Court law clerk; Grant Miller, an assistant city prosecutor; and lawyers Tiffany Foxworth and Gail Ray.
Smith, Foxworth and Ray are Democrats. Greene, Miller and Vendetto are Republicans.
Greene, 44, is the daughter of state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Toni Higginbotham and sister of 19th Judicial District Judge Beau Higginbotham.
Vendetto, 46, is the sister of East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III and lawyer Steven Moore.
The citywide, at-large seat was made possible by a Baton Rouge City Court redistricting compromise that won final legislative approval last month and came in response to a civil rights lawsuit — filed in 2012 — that alleged it was time to alter the racial makeup of the court because the city of Baton Rouge now has a majority-black population.
City Court, which previously had three majority-white and two predominantly black districts, now has two majority-white and two predominantly black districts and one at-large, citywide district.
The remap plan was approved by state lawmakers the same week Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ruled that he could not legally change election boundaries. The judge, however, urged the Legislature to update the boundaries to keep pace with the city’s changing racial makeup.
Smith, Foxworth and Ray are black. Greene, Miller and Vendetto are white.
Smith, the only announced candidate to date, said Wednesday that he’s not in the race because of the color of his skin.
“I’m not running as a black candidate. I hope to be running as the best-qualified candidate,” he said.
In addition to his 11 years on the School Board, Smith, 45, is a former prosecutor for both the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office. He finished third in a 2009 election for a vacant Baton Rouge City Court seat that was won by Kelli Terrell Temple, who still serves on the court.
Greene, who said she loves her job at the Attorney Genera’s Office, acknowledged she’s “definitely interested” in running for the City Court seat but needs to analyze the district before making a final decision. The single mother of three small children also wants to consider her family.
“I know I’d work hard and do a good job,” she said.
Vendetto, who has been 19th Judicial District Judge Mike Erwin’s law clerk for 19 years, said she’s been contacted by many people over the past few months inquiring about her interest in running for the seat that opened up when City Court Judge Alex “Brick” Wall retired in February. Wall has been serving on a temporary basis, under appointment by the state Supreme Court, until the special election.
“I am flattered that my friends, fellow attorneys and professional colleagues are encouraging me to seek the office,” Vendetto said in a written statement. “I am considering my options and will make a decision before qualifying ends.”
Miller, 42, said he’s received a lot of encouragement to seek the City Court seat.
“I’m definitely giving it serious consideration,” he said. “You’re not going to get somebody who’s more fair.”
Foxworth, 40, ran unsuccessfully for the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council in 2008, the state House of Representatives in 2011, City Court in 2012 and the 19th Judicial District Court in 2013.
“I can confirm that I am highly considering running for Baton Rouge City Court in the upcoming election,” the registered nurse and U.S. Army veteran said.
Ray, 61, confirmed she’s considering a possible run because, she said, others have approached her and encouraged her to do so.
There are more than 135,000 registered voters in the city of Baton Rouge, according to the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters Office.
If the Oct. 24 election does not produce an outright winner, a runoff would be held Nov. 21.