In a New Orleans mayoral primary that demonstrated voters’ readiness to put a woman in charge of the city, LaToya Cantrell can thank a diverse segment of the city for her considerable lead over Desiree Charbonnet, an analysis of vote totals shows.
Cantrell led Charbonnet 39 percent to 30 percent in Saturday's voting.
Although Cantrell’s crossover appeal accounted for her edge — she gained double Charbonnet’s percentage of non-black votes — she also did well in black communities, matching Charbonnet’s votes in those areas.
Michael Bagneris, the third-place finisher, gained three times more support from non-black voters than from black voters, which could also bode well for Cantrell in the Nov. 18 runoff.
All of which means that Charbonnet, who hoped her native-daughter status would appeal to longtime New Orleanians, will need to work a lot harder to cut into Cantrell’s support before the mayor’s race is decided, analysts say.
The numbers further suggest the populist approach that Cantrell, a California native, brought to her candidacy has wide-ranging appeal. They could also signal that a barrage of patronage and corruption allegations that some members of the city’s business community lobbed at Charbonnet had more impact than her campaign cared to admit.
As the runoff approaches, Charbonnet is almost certain to throw punches as she tries to catch up. She will likely attack Cantrell’s record on the City Council, where she has taken several controversial stands over her five-year tenure, but not much hay has been made so far out of those decisions' effects.
A study of vote totals conducted by University of New Orleans professor and political scientist Ed Chervenak found Cantrell did far better than Bagneris or Charbonnet at attracting diverse voters.
While Charbonnet was the choice of 40 percent of black voters but just 20 percent of non-black voters, Cantrell netted 40 percent of black voters and a striking 41 percent of other voters. Bagneris, who like his two main rivals is black, won only 9 percent of black voters and 27 percent of other voters.
Turnout overall was 32 percent, a 3 percentage point drop from 2014 but about the same as when Mayor Mitch Landrieu first won office in 2010. Figures on black versus non-black turnout were not available.
When examining results by City Council districts, Cantrell won three of the five districts, again showing broad support. They included her home base, District B, in which she captured 51 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Charbonnet and Cantrell were roughly tied in District D, which includes the 7th Ward neighborhood in which Charbonnet grew up and that is the stronghold of the COUP political organization that is backing her candidacy.
They also tied in District E, which includes New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward. The former, particularly, is a stronghold for politicians affiliated with U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who also endorsed Charbonnet.
Bagneris won no district outright, but he carried predominantly white neighborhoods such as Lakeview, the Garden District and parts of Uptown, as well as English Turn and some distant areas of New Orleans East.
District E had the lowest turnout on election day, Chervenak said, while District A had the highest.
Success in the runoff will depend on either candidate’s ability to not only hold her own base but to win Bagneris’ voters, said Chervenak and another analyst, Tulane University professor J. Celeste Lay. That could be an easier task for Cantrell.
Even with two races still to be decided, Saturday’s election already represents a shake-up o…
“Bagneris’ areas were closer to Cantrell’s areas demographically, so there might be more support there for Cantrell,” Lay said.
Data taken from a focus group Lay assembled showed the 6 percent of the vote captured by businessman Troy Henry, the fourth-place finisher, could go mostly to Charbonnet.
The biggest concern for Cantrell in the lead-up to Nov. 18 could be fending off attacks from Charbonnet, which are most likely to focus on Cantrell’s council record.
“She will have to answer for some things,” Lay said, “like Airbnb and her oversight of the Sewerage & Water Board. She might have kind of been able to get away with not giving full answers on those issues before, because she was one of 18 candidates.”
For Charbonnet, the challenge will be to knock Cantrell down a peg, while continuing her own counterattacks on those who have attacked her record, such as groups backed by Leslie Jacobs, Sidney Torres, Donald “Boysie” Bollinger and other members of the city’s business community who have warned that a Charbonnet administration would usher corruption back into City Hall.
As the candidates are similar in many ways — both are Democrats, female and African-American — the runoff also could largely hinge on a matter of style and voters’ personal preferences, Lay said.
Both have said that the city’s most pressing issues are crime, drainage and affordable housing, though they have provided slightly different approaches for solving those issues.
But those differences didn’t factor heavily in some voters’ decisions, at least not for the primary and at least not among the people in Lay’s focus group, she said.
Chervenak elaborated on those personal differences, which were clearly in evidence election night during Cantrell’s rambunctious victory speech and Charbonnet’s more reserved affair.
“The major difference in style is Charbonnet comes off as a much more polished candidate,” Chervenak said. “But Cantrell has I think a stronger connection to the grass-roots than Charbonnet does. She seems to be running more of a populist campaign.”
New Orleans' mayoral primary is finally over, and the runoff pairing is set. But before we e…