The primary for New Orleans mayor is two months from now.
But as with most major elections, the first vote is not even close to the first step in the process. Before the actual primary come the mini-primaries, a series of virtual battles for contributions, headlines, recommendations by interest groups and influencers, and ultimately momentum. And while the public campaign to replace Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been pretty slow in starting, the behind-the-scenes competition is in full swing.
One major front is over endorsements by interest and citizen groups. LaToya Cantrell, the city councilwoman who first rose to prominence as a leader of Broadmoor's successful post-Katrina recovery effort, won an outright endorsement from the Independent Women's Organization, a large group of Democratic women, and shared a nod from the social justice-oriented New Orleans Coalition with former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris. Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet has the support of the AFL-CIO and United Teachers of New Orleans.
Michael Bagneris has won the Frank Stewart primary, and that could pay dividends for a New O…
Charles and Richard Meyer are betting big on Desiree Charbonnet.
Another ongoing battle focuses on support of elected officials. Charbonnet is the only major candidate who can fill out a dedicated endorsement section on her website, having won support from legislators such as state Sens. Troy Carter and Wesley Bishop and state Reps. Jimmy Harris and Gary Carter, as well as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Her opponents have yet to unveil major endorsements, although state Sen. and Louisiana Democratic Party chair Karen Carter Peterson, who'd considered entering the race herself, showed up for Cantrell's campaign kick-off. Bagneris will certainly have the backing of his brother, state Rep. John Bagneris, who joined fellow sibling and retired appeals court judge Dennis Bagneris at his announcement.
And then there are the money primaries.
While she signaled her intentions relatively late in the game, Charbonnet is clearly winning with one group of contributors, those who do business with the city. In the latest round of reporting, she took in more than $869,000, compared to Cantrell's roughly $151,000 and Bagneris' just over $97,000. About $400,000 of that came from people or entities that do work with the city or its related agencies, according to an analysis by the Advocate.
Bagneris apparently has a foot in the door with another well-heeled group, what insiders generally refer to as the business community. Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges reported last week that he'd won the "Frank Stewart primary," the competition for backing from a habitual donor who built and sold a nationwide funeral home empire. Stewart hosted a breakfast introduction for three dozen friends and associates who often write big checks and said Bagneris had knocked their socks off. Jay Lapeyre, former head of the New Orleans Business Council, has also hosted a Bagneris meet-and-greet. The results of these efforts won't be in until the next round of reports is due, but Bagneris certainly has plenty of strong prospects.
These battles for support aren't just about resources. They help establish each candidate's public image and signal who might be more attentive to their particular group or supportive of their priorities.
Voters might see Charbonnet's wide establishment support as a sign she's respected by those who know her and know government best, or that she's too cozy with the powers-that-be. And for everyone who's attracted by the presence in her circle of Cannizzaro, whose issuance of fake subpoenas and other controversial practices have been in the news lately, someone else might be put off.
Same with Bagneris and Stewart, who was outspoken, to put it mildly, in his anger over Mayor Mitch Landrieu's move to remove Confederate monuments from the city's streets. If Bagneris is publicly connected to Stewart, he's associated with his agenda too. That will surely help him in some corners and hurt him in others.
As for Cantrell, there's an argument that a respected sitting City Council member should have attracted more endorsements and financial backing from those who've worked in her orbit. But she can argue the flip side, that the support for opponents is a sign that she's maintained her independence.
None of what's happened so far, of course, translates into a single vote where it really counts.
But this early stage is still worth watching, because two months from now it just might.