Desiree Charbonnet hasn't done much public campaigning in the weeks since she announced her mayoral bid, but it's clear now she has been doing plenty behind the scenes, building a war chest that so far dwarfs most of her competitors.
Disclosure forms due Monday from the candidates vying for the top job at City Hall revealed that Charbonnet, who left the Municipal Court bench to run, raised a whopping $869,000 in the two months after her campaign’s launch in May.
LaToya Cantrell, the City Council member seen by some as Charbonnet’s chief competitor, took in less than a fifth of that amount — $151,300 — over roughly the same period.
Michael Bagneris, a former judge making his second run for mayor, raised only $97,125 in donations, while also loaning himself $100,000.
Local businessman Frank Scurlock boasted the second-largest campaign account, $626,700, but had lent himself the full amount.
No report had been filed by Monday's deadline for Troy Henry, another businessman who seven years ago pumped about half a million dollars into his unsuccessful campaign against eventual winner Mitch Landrieu.
Charbonnet's haul suggested a wide base of support, at least among the city's major political donors. She collected an average of $2,374 each from 366 different contributors. Of those, 133 gave the maximum amount allowed by law, $5,000.
“I am humbled by all the support, and also energized,” Charbonnet said in a statement last week.
It was not an unprecedented fundraising effort. Landrieu, whose last-minute entry shook up the 2010 election, scooped up roughly $1.05 million within the first month of his announcement.
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Landrieu’s political action committee, NOLA PAC, has remained quiet so far in this election, after having raised $78,000 this spring. It supported lawyer Suzy Montero’s failed bid for a Civil District Court judgeship.
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Charbonnet's donors include a host of city contractors, lawyers, restaurateurs and others, including architect I. William Sizeler and his firm Sizeler Thompson and Brown Architects; owners Glenn and Jimmie Woods of Metro Services Group and Alvin Richard of Richard’s Disposal, the city's two trash collection contractors; and the Court of Two Sisters restaurant in the French Quarter.
In addition to paying for her mayoral announcement event, she used their money to attend the congressional baseball game in Washington, D.C., in June; make a fundraising trip to Sandestin, Florida; and on a personal driver, Nicholae Ivou.
She has an army of consultants on her payroll, including BDPC LLC, owned by prominent pollster Greg Rigamer, Laura Veazey’s Focus Strategies of Louisiana, Ron Nabonne and Teddlie Stuart Media Partners, among others.
Charbonnet ended the period with about $645,000 on hand.
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Meanwhile, Cantrell — who had been the top fundraiser before Charbonnet jumped in — collected an average of $717 from each of her 211 donors. Nine of them gave the $5,000 maximum, including Richard’s Disposal, Barry Kern Jr. of Mardi Gras World and Dennis Lauscha, president of the New Orleans Saints.
Their contributions paid for another formidable political team, which she announced earlier this year: consultants Karen Carvin Shachat and Bob Tucker, public relations specialist Bill Rouselle and pollster Silas Lee.
Cantrell also flew to New York to raise money, held a "listening tour" and paid a Boston firm to do research on her competitors. She had about $193,000 left at the end of the period.
Cantrell was quick to take shots at Charbonnet’s cash haul. “Unlike other candidates, I don’t have the luxury of powerful, deep pocketed donors and special interest groups to fund my campaign,” Cantrell wrote in an email to her supporters.
The statement also said “political machines” have rallied to oppose her.
Charbonnet has the backing of the longtime 7th Ward political organization COUP and is expected to get U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond’s endorsement.
Scurlock, son of the inflatable "bounce house" inventor John Scurlock, spent some of his money on billboards, the Rougarou Consulting firm and a website.
He also donated $100 each to Charbonnet and Cantrell, a move he called a sign of unity. “My only ambition as mayor of New Orleans is to unite our city and make it a place that’s safe for everyone to live, work and play,” he said.
He started July with about $499,000 left over.
Finally, Bagneris — whose 78 donors contributed an average $1,252 each this time around — also had nine $5,000 donors, including Frank Stewart Jr., a friend-turned-critic of the current mayor.
Stewart, a businessman and investor, has denounced Landrieu’s decision to remove four Jim Crow-era monuments from their pedestals in the city. Bagneris has said the city should focus on crime, not statues, and that the issue of the monuments should have been put to a public vote.
Scurlock also opposed the monuments' removal.
Bagneris, a former Civil District Court judge, entered July with $180,000 in the bank, having combined what he netted four years ago with newer contributions. He spent money on advertising and on consultants Bill Allerton, Cheron Brylski and Jim Farwell, among others.