Thursday night's New Orleans mayoral debate on WWL-TV was the last scheduled meeting of the candidates before Saturday's runoff. And I can think of at least two people who appear perfectly fine with that.
Despite their smiles, the atmosphere between City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet was chilly, as they took repeated opportunities to raise doubts about one another.
Charbonnet was more direct. Given the opportunity to question her opponent, she did so, asking why Cantrell claimed to be a champion for housing yet sided with developers from her seat on the council. Cantrell responded by listing programs she'd advocated to spur affordable housing.
And Charbonnet worked in additional sideswipes throughout. While defending neighborhoods against the scourge of short-term rentals, she noted that "this is not California," which happens to be Cantrell's home state.
In her closing, she asked which candidate voters would want to represent them around the nation and world. That was likely a reference to a topic that at least some observers have highlighted, Charbonnet's more polished demeanor. She also argued that whatever has gone wrong at City Hall in recent years happened on Cantrell's watch.
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Cantrell, who leads in recent polls, declined to question Charbonnet and said that voters didn't want to hear negativity. But she still found opportunities to poke at her rival. Among her memorable lines, which came at the end of her response to the housing question: "When you haven't done anything, it's easy to promise everything."
She also answered a question about what's holding New Orleans back by singling out political machines. Many traditional power players are in Charbonnet's corner, and a third-party group has alleged that she'd bring back "pay-to-play," or awarding city contracts to major donors.
Some of the issues that moderator Thanh Truong raised have been well-covered by now, but there were a few new twists. Both candidates said they'd support a tax on sugary drinks and a reduction in the cost of parking at a meter. Cantrell said she'd favor rent control and Charbonnet said she wouldn't.
Truong spent at least part of the hour getting more personal. He asked each candidate how being the city's first female mayor would impact their approach to sexual harassment in the workplace. Both said they'd back tough policies and also let employees know that their concerns will be heard.
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He also asked them to name something embarrassing that's happened during the campaign. Cantrell told a story about falling down while out canvassing. Charbonnet talked of blanking on the name of a close supporter at the end of a long day.
That may have been a reference to her flub the previous night during a radio debate on WWL-AM, in which she boasted of having the support of the area's two congressional representatives. She got the name of Republican Steve Scalise right, but when she tried to mention his Democratic colleague Cedric Richmond, who's been far more involved in her campaign, the name of his until-recently imprisoned predecessor came out instead: She called him Congressman Jefferson.
One lesson Charbonnet said she learned? The best you can do is apologize and move on.