Even with two races still to be decided, Saturday’s election already represents a shake-up of the New Orleans City Council, which will see a maximum of three of the seven incumbents keep their seats for another term.
And the results in several districts show race remains a major factor in who wins, something that may have implications for the Nov. 18 runoffs.
The election was always going to mean a change for the council, given Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s mayoral bid and the term limits that prevented Councilwomen Stacy Head and Susan Guidry from seeking re-election.
But with Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s return to the council after a four-year absence, thanks to her razor-thin defeat of incumbent Nadine Ramsey in District C, at least four of the seven seats will be in new hands when their representatives are sworn in in May.
Kristin Gisleson Palmer narrowly defeated Nadine Ramsey Saturday for the District C seat on …
And there could be a further shift if Councilman James Gray, whose District E represents New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward, cannot fend off a challenge from Cyndi Nguyen in the runoff.
“We’re looking at a changing of the guard in the council,” said Silas Lee, a pollster and sociology professor at Xavier University.
With two races still to be decided, it’s yet to be determined exactly how that new council will compare to the one seated now.
At a minimum, the council that takes office next year will have four men and possibly five, flipping its current gender ratio. And it could have as few as two black members, a reversal of its current racial demographics.
While race played a limited role in the mayoral contest, where all the major candidates were black, and in the two at-large council elections, it appears to have been a driving factor in Palmer’s victory in the District C race and in the votes that propelled Seth Bloom and Jay Banks to a runoff in District B.
“Citywide, there’s a lot of crossover, but not within those districts, where it’s polarized on racial lines,” University of New Orleans Survey Research Center Director Ed Chervenak said, noting that such voting patterns are not unexpected.
Former Orleans Parish School Board president Seth Bloom and BOLD powerbroker Jay Banks are h…
Palmer, who is white, eked out a victory over Ramsey, who is black, by just 112 votes in a district that is sharply divided both racially and geographically. That came as a surprise in a district where demographics favored Ramsey, Chervenak said.
District C covers the French Quarter, Marigny, Bywater and parts of St. Roch and St. Claude on the east bank, plus all of Algiers. That makes it an eclectic district where competing factions are constantly battling in close races, Lee said.
“You have family-oriented C, party-oriented C, gentrified C. You have three different worlds,” Lee said. That leads to close races, such as a 1994 contest he worked on that saw now-state Sen. Troy Carter defeat then-incumbent Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson by 24 votes.
Those groups clashed again in Saturday's primary, which Palmer — who represented the district from 2010 to 2014 before opting against running for re-election — sought to make a referendum on her successor. Throughout the campaign, Palmer charged Ramsey was unresponsive to her constituents and had ignored their wishes on a variety of issues ranging from riverfront development and short-term rentals to the design of a new Canal Street ferry terminal.
But in the end, race may have played the decisive role. Palmer received 78 percent of the non-black vote and only 15 percent of the black vote, according to an analysis by Chervenak. She also won 63 percent of the east bank vote but only 45 percent of the West Bank, according to the analysis.
Crucially, however, black turnout in District C — and throughout the city — was lower than non-black turnout, allowing Palmer to edge out Ramsey, Chervenak said.
Perhaps the most interesting runoff to watch in that respect will be between Bloom and Banks in District B, where the vote was sharply divided on racial lines and where demographics make the final outcome as hard to predict as the District C race was.
District B, once dominated by the Central City-based BOLD political organization, has been undergoing what Lee described as a “demographic tsunami” since Hurricane Katrina.
In 2010, black voters made up almost 54 percent of the district and outnumbered white voters by almost 9,000. But the district is now essentially evenly split, with black and white voters each making up about 46 percent of the population.
Race will likely play a significant role in the final outcome. Banks, who is black, took 61 percent of the African-American vote in District B while garnering only 13 percent of the non-black vote, according to Chervenak’s analysis. Bloom, who is white, took 60 percent of the non-black vote but only 6 percent of African-American ballots.
That Banks seems to have slightly more crossover appeal gives him a slight edge going into November, Chervenak said, even though Bloom came in first in the primary with 40 percent of the vote to Banks’ 27 percent.
The runoff in District E will also be a closely watched contest. Gray, facing four challengers, took only 38 percent of the vote. While that leaves him in first place going into the runoff, it’s an uncomfortably low tally for an incumbent, indicating that more than 60 percent of his constituents preferred someone else, Lee noted.
Incumbent James Gray and challenger Cyndi Nguyen are headed to a runoff for the New Orleans …
The racial dynamics of the runoff could be interesting. About 87 percent of the voters in District E are black, making it the most African-American district in the city. That would seem to favor Gray, who is black.
But Nguyen, who came in second with 26 percent and is a prominent member of the East’s Vietnamese community, could benefit from voters looking for “accountability and results” in a district that in many areas has yet to recover fully from Hurricane Katrina, Lee said.
“They could have E.T. come down here from Mars and if E.T. could say, ‘I will improve your quality of life,’ he’d get votes,” Lee said.
Only two sitting council members breezed to victory Saturday night.
At-Large Councilman Jason Williams took nearly 73 percent of the vote against four challengers. His weakest performance was a 64 percent showing in District A, where David Baird, the lone Republican running in any city election, picked up some conservative precincts in Lakeview.
Councilman Jared Brossett won more than 80 percent of the vote in District D, a Gentilly-based seat that ranges from the lakefront to Treme and stretches out into part of New Orleans East. Only one of his two opponents, Joel Jackson, actively campaigned, and he acknowledged during the race that he had little chance of winning.
Two newcomers to the council also took easy wins Saturday.
State Rep. Helena Moreno won 66 percent of the vote in her race against two opponents, including state Rep. Joe Bouie, for the council’s other at-large seat. And Joe Giarrusso, an attorney, defeated five opponents and won 65 percent of the vote in District A.
Editor's note: This story was changed on Oct. 16, 2014 to correct the percentage of the West Bank vote won by Kristin Gisleson Palmer.