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Mayoral candidates for New Orleans, from left to right, Michael Bagneris, LaToya Cantrell and Desiree Charbonnet wait for the start of a mayoral debate moderated by Karen Swensen, center, and sponsored by WWL-TV at the WYES-TV studios in New Orleans, La., Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Polls open at 7 a.m. in New Orleans on Saturday, Oct. 14.

Advocate staff photo by MAX BECHERER

An open mayoral election is always an implicit referendum on the last person to hold the job.

But WWL-TV made things explicit at Wednesday night's debate, asking each of the front-runners in the race to succeed Mitch Landrieu what they thought his greatest successes and failures have been. 

The candidates didn't hold back. 

Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris zeroed in on Landrieu's handling of the fiscal mess that confronted the Landrieu administration when it took office in 2010.

By “getting a handle on the budget,” Landrieu set the stage for an improved credit rating for the city, Bagneris said.

On the other hand, Bagneris said Landrieu had blundered by balancing the budget in part on the back of the Police Department, blaming the crime rate on the mayor's decision to put a hiring freeze in place during his first term. 

Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said Landrieu had done a good job working with philanthropic groups like the Carnegie Corporation, which helped fund the Rosa F. Keller Library in Broadmoor, something Cantrell often references when talking about her work restoring the neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina.

But she also described Landrieu as “being very divisive, not working well across lines with people.”

“I’ve been on the New Orleans City Council and I’ve always felt it was a divide and conquer type spirit,” Cantrell said.

Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet said Landrieu had done a lot to make City Hall more “user friendly” to residents, but said “my plans take it many steps further in terms of more technology at City Hall.”

And she criticized Landrieu’s leadership of the Sewerage & Water Board, alluding to the August flooding that has been laid at the agency's feet. 

In a separate question, all three said they would discontinue Landrieu’s deputy mayor system, in which appointees oversee groups of departments.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​