Nearly two months after City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell outed herself as a likely contender in the 2017 New Orleans mayor's race, a mysterious benefactor apparently wants to help her raise her profile.

Towering over drivers traveling east along the Pontchartrain Expressway into the Central Business District is a billboard that simply reads, “LaToya.”

The large sign — purple and white, with green trim around the lettering — appeared within the past week, though a spokesman for Cantrell claims she had no hand in it.

“It didn’t come from us,” David Winkler-Schmit said.

However, he said the sign was “encouraging” after Cantrell’s November call for donations and other support as she “considers” getting into the mayoral race.

Political candidates use such ads to build name recognition ahead of an election. Winkler-Schmit said he did not know who paid to have the billboard placed or whether any others are coming.

He also said he did not know whether Cantrell has hired any pollsters to test her popularity among voters.

In any case, the mayoral field is expected to be crowded, as Mayor Mitch Landrieu is barred by term limits from running again. Cantrell has long been rumored to be a potential candidate, but there also has been speculation about fellow council members Jason Williams and Nadine Ramsey making the race.

Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, who lost to Landrieu in 2014, is again expected to jump into the race.

Two other contenders could be state Rep. Walt Leger and state Sen. J.P. Morrell, though it is unclear if the two political allies will run against each other. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who also chairs the state Democratic Party, is another potential candidate.

Flashy local businessman Sidney Torres IV — the former trash magnate turned real estate developer who has a reality show launching in March on CNBC — has commissioned polls gauging his favorability rating among voters. 

The 2017 municipal elections will be in October and November, a change from the past February-March schedule that often placed them in the middle of the Carnival season and sometimes up against the Super Bowl. The next mayor and other city officials won’t take office until May 2018, giving Landrieu and others the chance to fulfill their complete terms. 

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Banker Kevin Delahoussaye, Dots Diner chain owner Larry Katz and business management group leader Jack Rizzuto are under consideration to temporarily fill a Jefferson Parish Council seat that is opening up this week, according to numerous parish officials.

District 4 Councilman Ben Zahn will step down at midnight Jan. 12 so that later that day he can be sworn in as Kenner's new mayor, a job he won in a runoff election in December.

Once his resignation takes effect, the remaining six Parish Council members will have 30 days to elect an interim replacement to serve until a special election to choose someone to serve out the remainder of a term that doesn't expire until early 2020.

Delahoussaye, Rizzuto and Katz have all sent in resumés to the Parish Council, officials said.

Like Zahn, they are all Republicans.

The parish charter would bar anyone appointed as an interim council representative from running in the special election to complete the term in question. It is expected that race will be held this fall.

In interviews, Delahoussaye, Katz and Rizzuto all cited their wide array of civic activities to explain why they believe they are the best choice to temporarily represent the Kenner- and Metairie-based district.

Delahoussaye, a high-ranking Capital One official, has previously lost a race for a Kenner City Council seat. He has been a vice chairman of the parish Republican Party, a Louisiana Racing Commission appointee and a member of a committee that reviewed Kenner's city charter, among other things.

"I've been a leader in everything I've done, I've given back to the community ... and I've handled multimillion-dollar budgets," he said.

Katz — who has Dots Diners in Metairie, River Ridge, Jefferson, Kenner and Luling — is a past chairman of the Causeway Commission, the current vice chairman of the board of New Orleans' City Park and will be chairman of the Jefferson Business Council in 2018.

"I've had the opportunity over many years to work with the council on both business and civic issues and would be honored if given the opportunity ... to keep Jefferson moving forward," Katz said. He added that he is "not looking to build a political resumé" but simply trying to help the community.

Rizzuto runs a third-generation family firm that holds interests in real estate management, restaurants and Carnival float building, among other ventures.

He said he is well-versed in how government functions by virtue of sitting on East Jefferson General Hospital's governing board, the parish Republican Party Executive Committee as well as the GOP's state Central Committee. He also is captain of the New Orleans-based Carnival Krewe of Pygmalion.

Rizzuto in 2013 ran unsuccessfully for the state House seat now held by Julie Stokes, R-Kenner. Prior to that, he ran for the District 4 Parish Council seat in 2003 as well as a spot in the state House in 2007. 

Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato and state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, have each announced they intend to run to complete Zahn's Parish Council term.

Meanwhile, LaPolitics.com's Jeremy Alford has reported that state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, intends to run to succeed Martiny, who either way is barred from seeking re-election to the Senate in 2019 due to term limits.

Compiled by Jessica Williams and Ramon Antonio Vargas