LaToya Cantrell’s campaign for mayor picked up a key endorsement from third-place finisher Michael Bagneris on Friday, extending the momentum she gained with the surprisingly wide margin of her first-place finish in the Oct. 14 primary.
Bagneris, whose recommendation of Cantrell was widely expected, said he was giving her his backing because of the areas where their platforms were in sync, as well as his concerns about second-place finisher Desiree Charbonnet and her backers.
Charbonnet, a former Municipal Court judge, and Cantrell, a city councilwoman, will meet in a Nov. 18 runoff. Cantrell came in first in the primary with 39 percent of the vote, followed by Charbonnet with 30 percent and Bagneris with 19 percent.
Cantrell “not only had similarities to my program in terms of what I would do if I were in the office. It was also a situation where I believe she had the substance to actually achieve what we discussed,” Bagneris said. “And candidly ... Desi had sound bites and Latoya had substance.”
A personal animosity apparently developed between Bagneris and Charbonnet in the final weeks of the primary campaign, so his decision was not a surprise.
But the Bagneris stamp of approval may help move some voters — and donors — who have been wary of Cantrell.
“LaToya has throughout the primary had a really wide and open tent, welcoming everyone to come into a new day in politics,” said Karen Carvin Shachat, a consultant to Cantrell’s campaign. “We hope (Bagneris') supporters will join us and at least take a serious look at LaToya’s candidacy.”
Bagneris made the endorsement Friday without any kind of formal announcement, instead revealing it first to a reporter for nola.com in a phone interview. He later spoke to The New Orleans Advocate.
The announcement was kept informal partly because he remains focused on his daughter, who suffered life-threatening injuries when she was struck by an apparently drunk driver on election night. Bagneris said Friday that she has undergone half a dozen surgeries and has begun to recover.
In discussing the endorsement, Bagneris highlighted areas where he has agreed with Cantrell, particularly on economic development.
He said Cantrell has promised to do what she can to bring more manufacturing jobs to the port and to reopen Lincoln Beach, a former amusement park in New Orleans East, two of his campaign promises.
The former Civil District Court judge also raised concerns about some of Charbonnet’s backers, including U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, her brother Bernard “Bunny” Charbonnet, attorney Ike Spears and bail bondsman Blair Boutte.
That “fearsome foursome” would control a Charbonnet administration from behind the scenes and steer city contracts to campaign donors, Bagneris said.
“Desi may believe that she was going to be independent, but again that’s the sound bite you’ve got to give,” he said. “People who know politics in this city know there were going to be other folks running that office, no matter how much she says, 'I’m going to be independent.' ”
Those charges echo attacks leveled against Charbonnet before the primary by two political action committees funded largely by members of the business community.
Kevin Stuart, a spokesman for Charbonnet, expressed condolences for the Bagneris family over the election-night accident but pushed back against the criticism.
Stuart said the tone of the endorsement smacked of “sour grapes from a losing candidate." He pointed to Charbonnet’s detailed plans for tackling crime, economic development and affordable housing as evidence that hers has been the more substantive campaign.
As for criticism of Charbonnet’s backers, Stuart said the charges only prove that the attacks coming from third-party groups were actually “a Bagneris operation,” something Bagneris denied during his campaign.
“Bagneris is being dishonest. The donors to that (attack) organization were tied to him,” Stuart said. “He’s regurgitating their talking points. The relationships are thick and clear.”
The coming weeks will show whether Bagneris can persuade his voters and backers to swing behind Cantrell. Although he is African-American, he polled well among white voters and drew significant support in the business community.
With his daughter’s health issues foremost on his mind, Bagneris said he doesn’t expect to have time to get on the campaign trail for Cantrell or to do much work to pull his supporters into her camp.
Saying that “I don’t think my coattails are that long,” Bagneris said he thought those of his supporters who will back Cantrell would do so whether or not he made the endorsement.
“The people who are going to shift are going to shift not because Michael Bagneris is asking it. They’re going to shift because they realize what Mike Bagneris realizes, that she’s the party that’s in the best interest of New Orleans,” he said.