It's been a long campaign, but in the final televised debate before Saturday's New Orleans mayoral primary, some clear differences between the three top-polling candidates came into focus — maybe not politically, but personally.
The questions on the issues covered familiar ground. The clear tension among three candidates vying for two runoff spots was new, or at least newly open.
It started early, with the two former judges taking sideways swipes at one another. After ex-Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet touted her record dealing with crime, former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris pointed out that her court didn't handle murders, rapes and other felonies.
She got her chance to hit back, and then some, when the candidates posed questions to one another. Charbonnet asked why Bagneris had been recommended for a federal judgeship under President Barack Obama but never nominated, and what the FBI found out that the citizens of New Orleans should know. Bagneris insisted he didn't get the appointment because Obama was intent on naming the local federal court's first black female judge.
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They also tangled over how Charbonnet handled the case of then-state Sen. Troy Brown, who appeared in her court on a domestic abuse charge. Bagneris insisted that Charbonnet cut him a break by allowing him to waive an appearance in court. She said he followed procedure and appeared before a magistrate, then suggested that her opponent was talking out of both sides of his mouth.
"You've got to decide whether you think Municipal Court deals with serious cases or not," she said. "You don't understand criminal justice."
"You don't understand law, period," Bagneris shot back.
City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell got into the act too. She asked Charbonnet why, back when she was recorder of mortgages after Hurricane Katrina, she had processed paperwork from mortgage companies that were demanding residents use insurance proceeds to pay off their loans rather than move forward with rebuilding. Charbonnet said she was obligated to, and that Cantrell doesn't understand the law.
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There was a lot of that going around Wednesday night.
The tension really came through when candidates were asked what they admire about one another.
Bagneris said Cantrell's a good mom, and she said he has a good sense of humor. Charbonnet lauded Cantrell's work rebuilding Broadmoor after Hurricane Katrina, and she said Bagneris has a lovely wife who stood by him and was a good civil court judge "in his day."
As for what Bagneris found to praise about Charbonnet, he came up with this, um, gem: that she has great taste in shoes. Cantrell piled on by pointing out that she's a very nice dresser and used to work in retail.
Cantrell may enjoy Bagneris' sense of humor, but I don’t think Charbonnet was laughing.