NO.mayorforum.111217.0005.JPG

Mayoral candidates, city councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, right, speaks during a debate with Desiree Charbonnet, a former Municipal Court judge, left, put on by Lake Area neighborhood associations at the St. Dominic School Gym in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by MAX BECHERER

Political campaigns tend to fixate on the negative, particularly when candidates talk about all the changes they plan to make when they take office. The New Orleans mayor's race is no different.

One way debate moderators try to break the cycle is to ask candidates to say something nice about one another. Another is to ask them to reflect positively on the outgoing administration.

I tried the second tack Wednesday night when I joined host and former Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand and reporter Dave Cohen for a radio debate on WWL-AM. Hoping to get a glimpse into the type of people each candidate would bring on board, I asked them to name Mayor Mitch Landrieu's best hires.

City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell pointed to the leadership of the Safety and Permits department, which has instituted a one-stop shop.

"It went from permitsucks.com to having a real system in place that has at least minimized the wait in getting things moving," she said. More work needs to be done and more satellite agencies need to be hooked in, she said, but leaders there are focused "on getting things done."

Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet singled out Landrieu's first chief administrative officer, Andy Kopplin, who was her contact when the court went through the budgeting process. The choice might surprise some observers who've followed Landrieu's frequent battles with other agencies, but Charbonnet lauded Kopplin for taking a respectful, collaborative approach and for handling a deficit inherited from the Nagin administration.

She said they didn’t always agree, but that "Andy kept the budget intact and in order…He would work with me and that was what was most important."

You can view the entire hour-long debate at WWL-AM's web site.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.