It’s been a long-running open secret that New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams is eying a run for district attorney in 2020.
Time to scratch the “secret” part.
Williams didn't exactly make it official this week, but he left no doubt as to his plans. At a screening for documentary critical of incumbent Leon Cannizzaro – one that featured Williams, a criminal defense attorney by trade, as an on-screen critic – Williams responded to an audience question by saying he’s “absolutely” in.
Cannizzaro hasn’t said whether he’ll seek a third term, but regardless, Williams’ entry guarantees a broad philosophical debate over criminal justice tactics.
Cannizzaro is old school, a tough talking prosecutor who has often found himself at odds with the modern criminal justice reform movement. Williams is a generation younger and much more in tune with the drive to reduce mass incarceration, particularly for non-violent offenders.
Williams, who chairs the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, already has a history of clashing with Cannizzaro in public. Matters of contention have included the office’s funding, a council-passed law to reduce penalties for marijuana possession, Cannizzaro’s support for trying juveniles accused of serious crimes as adults and his aggressive use of the state’s habitual offender laws to seek long sentences. Williams has also excoriated Cannizzaro’s office for its use of fake witness subpoenas, a practice that stopped only after the press started reporting on it.
Williams’ seemingly impromptu announcement, if you want to call it that, was unconventional but not really unprecedented.
When John Bel Edwards was preparing to run for governor, he let his plans slip during a radio interview more than two years ahead of time. The first word that LaToya Cantrell had decided for sure to run for New Orleans mayor came not from her own lips, but from a line on her campaign web site.
Things worked out okay for both of them.