Three dozen candidates signed up for 15 local New Orleans races on the first day of qualifying Wednesday for the Oct. 14 election, providing few surprises but filling out the fields for mayor and some City Council seats with new faces.
In the mayor’s race, three already-announced and experienced officeholders were joined by an equal number of newcomers seeking to replace term-limited Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
All but one of the City Council seats drew multiple contenders.
The first day of qualifying is traditionally the busiest, though more candidates are expected to sign up before the deadline at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
In the mayor’s race, the apparent front runners, former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet, all said their top priority would be dealing with the city’s crime problem, and all pointed to their experience as preparing them for the task.
Cantrell said dealing with crime also requires focusing on other issues, such as affordable housing and economic development. And she said her experience “in the trenches” on the council sets her apart from her opponents.
“When we look at where we’re going and where we are, this is a critical point for the city of New Orleans that will determine literally how we move forward, unified, ensuring we meet the needs of all our people,” Cantrell said. “We’re a tale of two cities, and this is an opportunity to create that equity and balance.”
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Charbonnet touted her time on the bench as a credential that would help her get a handle on crime.
“The people have spoken. They’re scared. They need a leader who’s strong and can make tough decisions,” she said. “I’m prepared to do that. I’m prepared to reduce violent crime significantly and rebuild the Police Department and do that without raising taxes.”
Charbonnet didn’t offer specifics but said she would “scrub the budget” to find the money to pay for her plan.
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Bagneris said his first step would be rebuilding the Police Department’s Office of Community Relations to re-establish trust with the community. He touted his work in government dating back to his time in former Mayor Dutch Morial’s administration in the 1980s, saying no one else in the race could compete with his experience.
“It would take a whole day for me to run down everything we’re dealing with, but I will tell you this. I was the first to ring the bell about our public safety plan and the first to provide a detailed plan to address that problem,” said Bagneris, who made crime a major focus of his losing 2014 run against Landrieu.
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Those three candidates were joined by several novices.
Matthew Hill, an executive coach, said he would use his professional experience to fix inefficiencies and dysfunction in City Hall, giving as an example what he described as unacceptable hold times for those calling the 311 help line.
“What I can do is go into any organization and assess all the issues and all of the problems and untangle them,” Hill said.
Byron Stephan Cole, son of the late civil rights and community activist Dyan “Mama D” Cole, also qualified Wednesday.
“One of those (needed) conversations is one that is very detailed about abject poverty and the stranglehold the hospitality industry has on the average New Orleanian,” Cole said. “And I’m continuing my mother’s work.”
Rounding out the field was Johnese Smith, who said she had been told to run by God.
Cole and Hill were the only two candidates who qualified for any of the municipal races in Orleans Parish who are not registered Democrats. Both have no party affiliation.
Businessman Frank Scurlock, who also has announced his candidacy, is expected to qualify Thursday.
That still leaves at least two candidates who have yet to make a formal decision. Businessman and reality TV host Sidney Torres has said he’ll make a final decision on whether to run just before qualifying ends. Troy Henry, a consultant who ran against Landrieu in 2010, announced Tuesday he was considering getting into the race.
All the council members seeking re-election signed up Wednesday, but three open seats and numerous challengers could lead to a series of interesting races.
Three people qualified for the District A seat, which will be open because Councilwoman Susan Guidry is term-limited. Attorney Joseph Giarrusso III, nonprofit CEO and Pensiontown Neighborhood Association leader Tilman Hardy and writer, editor and community activist Drew Ward are all in that race.
The District B seat now held by Cantrell has the potential to see one of the largest fields. Former Zulu King Jay Banks, former Orleans Parish School Board President Seth Bloom and veterinarian Catherine Love signed up Wednesday, joined by Andre “Action Andre” Strumer, a writer who works in film. However, Eric Johnson announced he would not be running, as he had promised.
As expected, Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey and former Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer both qualified for the District C seat, setting up what is expected to be a heated race.
In District D, Councilman Jared Brossett signed up for re-election. Belden "Noonie Man" Batiste, a community activist and Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian, also qualified.
In District E, incumbent Councilman James Gray, businesswoman Alicia Plummer Clivens, community activist Dawn Hebert and Cyndi Nguyen, a leader in the Vietnamese community, all qualified.
The Division 1 at-large seat now held by term-limited Councilwoman Stacy Head drew three candidates: state Rep. Helena Moreno, community development and housing consultant Kenneth Cutno and Eldon Delloyd "EL" Anderson, who has spent his career working with youth.
In the Division 2 at-large seat, Councilman Jason Williams qualified and, at this point, faces no opposition.
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Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman was the first elected official to qualify Wednesday and drew a challenge from Fredrick "Freddy" Brooks, one of his former deputies, who said he wants deputies to be used in fighting crime in the city.
Assessor Erroll Williams also qualified and faces a challenge from Anthony Brown.
Coroner Jeffrey Rouse signed up and drew a challenger in Dwight McKenna, a doctor and publisher of The New Orleans Tribune, who has mounted two previous runs for the office.
Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase and Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier both signed up for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal seat vacated by Paul Bonin.
Omar Mason qualified for the seat on the Civil District Court bench that had been held by Paula Brown.
Clerk of Civil District Court Dale Atkins and Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell also qualified Wednesday. No challengers showed up to oppose either of them.
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