Judge Desiree Charbonnet

Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet

New Orleans Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet, who's been the subject of persistent rumors about whether she will jump into this fall’s mayor’s race, will step down from the bench on Friday, clearing the way for her to do just that.

Charbonnet submitted a letter of resignation to Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for that office confirmed.

Charbonnet, 48, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. But her decision to resign as a judge is the clearest sign yet that she intends to run for the top job at City Hall.

Were Charbonnet running for the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, as she has previously indicated, or for another judicial seat, she would not need to resign from her current post. Leaving the bench is required only for candidates running in non-judicial races.

One supporter of Charbonnet's, former Councilman Eddie Sapir, said Thursday that he wouldn't be surprised to see Charbonnet run for mayor. “I’ve always felt that she was going to keep her options open,” he said.

Charbonnet would be entering a mayor's race that has gotten off to a sluggish start, with only two candidates — former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris and City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell — outright declaring their candidacies so far.

A Charbonnet candidacy might pose the biggest threat to Cantrell. Both are able to appeal to residents who think the city’s next mayor should be black and a woman. And while Cantrell has had the higher profile as a council member, Charbonnet has the deeper New Orleans ties. 

Charbonnet's family has lived in the city for generations and has made deep connections through the funeral home it has run for many years.

Her brother, Bernard “Bunny” Charbonnet, is a well-known New Orleans lawyer who has been active politically, serving in the administration of former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and advising Judge Paulette Irons, who ran for mayor in 2002. She’s also a cousin of former state Rep. Louis Charbonnet III.

Charbonnet's politics are something of a blank slate. She has served for nearly a decade on the Municipal Court bench, remaining largely out of the spotlight. Before then, she was the parish recorder of mortgages, another low-profile position. 

Meanwhile, the informal talks that sometimes result in the city’s old-line black political organizations and prominent black politicians rallying behind one candidate haven't happened yet in the mayor’s race, people familiar with the situation say. So it's not clear if Charbonnet will gain the favor of those groups or of U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, another closely watched endorsement.

She would have to kick her fundraising into high gear to catch up to Cantrell, who raised more than $183,000 in the first quarter of the year. That’s more than Bagneris or state Rep. Walt Leger III, who is also weighing a run.

Others flirting with the possibility of running are state Sens. Troy Carter and JP Morrell.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jason Williams and Sen. Karen Carter Peterson also have been mentioned as potential candidates, though all seem to be leaning against the idea.

Meanwhile, it came out Thursday that real estate developer Sidney Torres IV, who was seen as the wild card in this year’s race, donated $50,000 last year to President Donald Trump’s inauguration through his company IV Capital LLC, a move that's not likely to help him in heavily Democratic New Orleans. 

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.