Poll finds tight 3-way race for Orleans mayor

The top three candidates in the New Orleans mayor’s race appear to be in a statistical dead heat, according to an independent poll.

Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet are all within a few points of one another, according to the poll conducted Sept. 5-7 by Market Research Insight.

Cantrell leads with 27 percent, followed by Bagneris with 26 percent and Charbonnet with 25 percent.

The result was good news for Bagneris, who had garnered only 17 percent of the vote in a July survey by MRI.

Businessman Troy Henry, the only other candidate named in the poll, was a distant fourth with support from 4 percent of those surveyed, though the poll was conducted before a committee supporting him began an ad campaign last week.

The poll showed 18 percent of voters were undecided.

The poll's questionnaire strongly attempted to get those surveyed to pick a candidate, asking voters who initially said they were undecided "which candidate would it be if you just had to say."

In possible runoff pairings, the poll shows a close race between Cantrell and Charbonnet, with Cantrell receiving 41 percent and Charbonnet 40 percent. That’s a significant shift from July, which had Charbonnet leading Cantrell 44 percent to 33 percent in a runoff.

Cantrell would have a 44-38 lead over Bagneris in a runoff, and Charbonnet would beat Bagneris 50-26 in a head-to-head match-up, according to the poll.

The results suggest that Bagneris and Charbonnet may be drawing from similar pools of supporters, said Verne Kennedy, president of MRI.

Among black voters, Cantrell led with 29 percent, followed by Bagneris with 28, Charbonnet with 22 and Henry with 3 percent. White voters gave Charbonnet the edge with 28 percent, followed by Cantrell with 25 and Bagneris with 23 percent.

There were also significant differences in the support for Charbonnet and Cantrell based on gender. About 29 percent of men and 21 percent of women supported Charbonnet, while about 21 percent of men and 33 percent of women backed Cantrell. Bagneris got 26 percent support from both genders.

The poll found far less competition for the two at-large City Council seats.

State Rep. Helena Moreno was far in the lead in her bid for one at-large seat, with 49 percent of the vote, according to the poll. State Rep. Joe Bouie had 8 percent and Kenneth Cutno 3 percent.

Councilman Jason Williams led in his bid for re-election to the other at-large seat, with 35 percent, followed by Jason Coleman with 8 percent, David Gregory Nowak with 6 and Aaron “Ace” Christopher with 5. Nearly half of the voters were undecided in that race, according to the poll. 

Outside of the election, the poll found 54 percent of those surveyed blamed the Sewerage & Water Board for the Aug. 5 flood and 37 percent blamed Mayor Mitch Landrieu. About 3 percent blamed corruption and 1 percent blamed environmental issues in response to the question, which allowed voters to voice their own opinion rather than choosing from a list of options.

The poll surveyed 400 voters who said they “definitely” or “probably” would be voting in the Oct. 14 election and who had voted in at least two of the last three major elections. The survey had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

The poll was paid for by a group of business people who regularly conduct polls on Louisiana and New Orleans politics. John Georges, the owner of The New Orleans Advocate, is a member of that group.

A poll of the race conducted by Charbonnet's campaign showed a somewhat more favorable result for her. In that poll, 20 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Charbonnet, 15 picked Cantrell and 10 percent named Bagneris. About 41 percent said they were undecided.

When those undecided voters were asked whom they were leaning toward — as in the MRI poll — Charbonnet had support from 27 percent of the voters, Cantrell from 17 percent and Bagneris from 14 percent.

That poll, conducted by BDPC on Sept. 9, surveyed 610 chronic voters and had a margin of error of about 4.1 percent.

Jeff School Board seeks PR firm before election

The Jefferson Parish School Board voted last week to set aside $75,000 to hire a public relations firm to help educate voters ahead of the Nov. 18 election, when the board is asking voters to approve a new 8.45-mill tax dedicated to teacher and employee salary increases.

The vote followed a lengthy discussion that began when board member Cedric Floyd proposed hiring Byron Leblanc and paying him $69,000 for the job.

Leblanc has worked for the school system before, and while several members said they found him to be competent, they thought the board should see if other firms would be interested.

"I feel like I am being railroaded again," said board President Melinda Doucet. "Why was there no (request for proposals)? This is a lot of money."

Floyd countered that the board had unanimously voted to hire Leblanc in the past, and with the election quickly approaching, it needed to act fast to send a message of support to the teachers.

Going out for proposals "is a delay tactic," Floyd said.

Board member Marion Bonura, a retired coach, didn't buy that argument. "Don't listen to all that garbage," he told the teachers in the audience. "I'm for you, you know that."

Others agreed that proposals should be solicited.

"While I think the world of Mr. Leblanc, I do not think this is the way we should do business," Larry Dale said.

The board decided to amend the measure to a request for qualifications with a cap of $75,000, but not before Floyd caught some criticism from fellow board member Mark Morgan.

"This is a problem when a single board member, not just Mr. Floyd, goes out and does something all on their own," he said. "This isn't a one-man show. It doesn't work that way."

The deadline for firms to submit their qualifications is 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Zahn reappoints former member to housing board

Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn has reappointed Connie Montgomery to the Kenner Housing Authority board, less than three months after her resignation from the board prompted a city investigation into the agency that culminated in the firing of Executive Director Marc Starling and Zahn's removal of the remaining two board members.

Montgomery's July resignation left the five-member board with only two members, effectively paralyzing the agency because the board could not assemble the quorum required to take action.

In her resignation letter, Montgomery accused former Director Marc Starling, board Chairwoman Faye Matthews and agency attorney Don Richard of bypassing the other board members and violating agency policy, civil service rules and other laws.

She also called the board "dysfunctional" and said it was not capable of dealing with the violations. Starling disputed Montgomery's accusations, accusing her of hostility toward him.

Zahn immediately ordered his city's internal auditors to review the agency's actions and finances. In August, he announced that the review found "numerous instances of potential ethical and procedural violations." Zahn removed the remaining two board members and called on Starling to resign.

Just a few days later, he appointed three new members, who fired Starling at their first meeting. The board has now appointed Brenda Richard-Montgomery as interim director while it conducts a search for a new director.

Compiled by Jeff Adelson and Faimon A. Roberts III