Jefferson council rivals charge dirty tricks

Saturday was the first day of early voting for the Oct. 14 elections, which means candidates are looking for any little advantage they can eke out. And for many, that means complaining about an opponent's tactics.

That's true in the Jefferson Parish Council District 4 race, where an intense battle over who will succeed Ben Zahn and possibly provide the swing vote on a frequently divided council is entering the homestretch.

Within the span of a few hours Saturday, representatives of both the Danny Martiny and Dominick Impastato camps charged that the other camp was up to dirty tricks.

First, the Martiny camp said a robocall had gone out from Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn, a supporter of Impasato, but the caller ID number that showed up on people's phones said the call was from the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office.

"People don't like robocalls, but they picked up because they thought somebody they knew may be in trouble," Martiny said, alleging that the phony number was a trick to get people to listen to the call, in which Zahn extolled Impastato's record on the Kenner City Council.

Greg Rigamer, the political consultant whose firm recorded and put out the call, said the national vendor he hired to send out the call had made the mistake.

"A few years ago, we did a tax referendum for the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office," Rigamer said. The person who loaded the call into their system inadvertently put an old number with the call, he said.

Nevertheless, "the error is mine, and I apologize," Rigamer said. "It won't happen again."

On the other side, Zahn reported Saturday that Martiny was holding a rally within 600 feet of a polling place and that Kenner police were going to tell them they had to move.

Kenner police did go to the rally, which was being held on private property within 600 feet of the Registrar of Voters Office in Kenner's Rivertown, but all they did was ask the rally attenders to move some cars that had Martiny signs on them, which they did, Martiny said.

Richmond, allies backing Charbonnet

To the surprise of almost no one, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond has swung his weight behind Desiree Charbonnet in the New Orleans mayor’s race, calling her the “right choice” for voters.

The former Municipal Court judge had already won the endorsements of several politicians aligned with Richmond, and some of his closest allies have worked behind the scenes on her campaign.

And when Charbonnet resigned from the bench in April to explore a mayoral bid, Richmond called it “exciting news” on Twitter.

“Desiree has impressive new ideas and plans for fighting crime, creating jobs, and building up the city's infrastructure," Richmond said. "She'll be the mayor we need in New Orleans."

Richmond wields considerable influence on Capitol Hill as the head of the Congressional Black Caucus. But he is also a significant political force in New Orleans, counting numerous local officeholders among his allies.

Many of them also have endorsed Charbonnet. They include state Sen. Wesley Bishop, state Rep. Jimmy Harris, Constable of 2nd City Court Edwin Shorty and Clerk of 2nd City Court Darren Lombard.

State Sen. Troy Carter, another Richmond ally, and his nephew state Rep. Gary Carter Jr. also back Charbonnet.

Political operatives Ike Spears and Blair Boutte, key strategists in Richmond’s organizing effort, are also in the former judge’s camp.

Charbonnet also scored another endorsement this week: that of state Sen. JP Morrell, who flirted with his own mayoral run this year before abandoning the idea.

Poll is good news for Bagneris, Charbonnet

Michael Bagneris has edged past the other top contenders in the New Orleans mayor’s race, according to an independent poll.

But there’s an important caveat: Bagneris’ voters are not as sure about him as LaToya Cantrell’s and Desiree Charbonnet’s backers are about them, which means the next two weeks of campaigning could prove pivotal.

While Cantrell had a small lead over Bagneris and Charbonnet in an earlier survey by the same company, she has now slipped 10 points behind Bagneris and seven points behind Charbonnet, the poll found.

More than a tenth of voters said they were undecided.

A third of the 400 voters polled by Market Research Insight on Sept. 19-20 said Bagneris was their first choice. That’s a surge from a Sept. 7 poll by the same company that found Bagneris was the favorite of about a quarter of voters.

Both polls, overseen by pollster Verne Kennedy, were paid for by a business coalition that regularly polls Louisiana elections. John Georges, the owner of The Advocate, is a member of that coalition.

The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

Bagneris’ apparent momentum comes after he scored a last-minute boost of campaign cash from an influential segment of the city’s business community. He spent much of the $260,500 he raised from July to early September on TV ads and other communications.

But Bagneris’ lead appears shaky. Only 29 percent of voters who favored him said they were strongly committed to him, while nearly half of the voters favoring Cantrell or Charbonnet said they were devoted to them.

Cantrell polled 23 percent, her lowest figure since MRI began polling voters July 7. And her fundraising lagged over that same time period, as she gained only $140,500 in contributions.

Maintaining her strength throughout the firm's polling has been Charbonnet, who polled this time at 30 percent. She is also the dominant fundraiser in the race, netting $1.2 million since the beginning of the year.

The poll examined, as it has done before, how well the top candidates would do in a runoff. Both women would prevail against Bagneris, though Cantrell would win by a smaller margin: 44-40. Charbonnet would win by 48-36. Bagneris’ chances in such a hypothetical runoff have improved since the firm’s Sept. 7 poll.

Should the two women face off in November, Charbonnet would lead Cantrell 47-35.

Generally, Charbonnet and Cantrell attract more women than Bagneris does, though Bagneris and Charbonnet share support among most other demographic groups.

The poll found that all three of the top candidates would be harmed by an endorsement from current Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

A fourth candidate, businessman Troy Henry, polled so low that MRI deemed him a non-factor in the race.

Compiled by Faimon A. Roberts III and Jessica Williams