Four state lawmakers. Two City Council members. One current and one former judge. The district attorney. And a businessman turned reality TV host.
With a little less than four months to go before qualifying in the New Orleans mayor’s race, there is plenty of speculation about who will run, but few committed candidates.
Most potential candidates are still keeping their cards close to their vests as they consider whether to run to replace Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is unable to seek re-election because of term limits.
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So far, only one major contender has declared: former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, who left the bench for a failed bid to unseat Landrieu in 2014.
Nine others are widely seen as possibilities for the fall election. Some are making concrete moves that point toward a run, while others — so far — are merely fodder for speculation by analysts and pundits.
The pool of potential candidates is wide: District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro; City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell; state Sens. Troy Carter and JP Morrell; and state Rep. Walt Leger. And then there are City Councilman Jason Williams, Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet and state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, all of whom are frequently brought up as potential mayoral hopefuls but who have seemed to be leaning against a run.
And finally, there’s the wildcard: Sidney Torres IV, who rose to fame when his trash hauling company gave the French Quarter a "lemony fresh" scent, has fought with Landrieu over crime issues and now stars in a reality TV show about flipping houses in the city.
It’s still early in the year, but the city is approaching its first election season on a new calendar that will see the race decided by an October primary and a likely November runoff. In the past, the elections took place early in the next year, meaning qualifying was still many months away at this point in the year.
Of the New Orleans politicians known to be eyeing this year's mayor’s race, LaToya Cantrell …
An early start isn’t always necessary to win. Just look at Landrieu, who did not jump into the 2010 election until just as qualifying was beginning.
But at least some figures are starting to make moves or to more seriously consider the possibilities the race may hold for them.
While he hasn’t held a formal event announcing his intentions, Bagneris said Friday, “I’m not waiting. I’m not thinking about it. I’m not wavering. I am definitely, unequivocally running.”
It would be the second run for the former judge, who challenged Landrieu unsuccessfully in the last mayoral election.
Bagneris, who said he’s already donated $50,000 of his own money to his campaign to show his seriousness, said he would be running on a similar platform this time around: improving public safety, working to bring in jobs and manufacturing that would fit in well with the port, and fixing the city’s crumbling streets.
“I have to suspect whoever’s a candidate is going to be addressing the same issues because they’re daunting; they’re beating you over the head,” he said. “Sometimes literally, when you look at the issue of public safety.”
Then there’s Cantrell, who hasn’t formally announced her intentions but who many observers consider is all but committed to the race. Cantrell said last fall that she was “considering” a run and that she hears “the call to serve and lead this wonderful city.”
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Since then, she has been lining up the early framework of a campaign, including meetings with community members, and fundraising through email appeals and events.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time just listening to residents: hearing their stories, what they see as essential for a strong New Orleans and what they want from their next mayor,” Cantrell said in an emailed statement. “As I move about, I continue to be very encouraged by people’s reaction to my potential candidacy.”
Other potential entrants are talking about the race in somewhat concrete ways.
Morrell has previously said that he’s looking at the race. On Friday, he expanded on that possibility.
“I am very interested,” he said. “I am doing a lot of due diligence. I’m flattered by the sheer amount of people that want me to consider it, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m considering it. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity. I think the field suggests I could be competitive, but I’m looking at it.”
Morrell originally said he would not make an announcement until after this year’s legislative session wraps up in early June, but he’s now expected to make a decision by mid-May.
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He isn’t the only legislator looking at the contest.
Leger, who would be unable to seek re-election to the House in 2019 due to term limits, is seen by many as continuing to move toward a mayoral run.
In January, Leger formed a new campaign committee — Friends of Walt Leger — to raise funds for a run for an “undetermined major office,” according to filings with the state. Mayor of New Orleans is considered a “major office” by the state.
Leger and Morrell are longtime friends, and it remains unclear whether they would run against each other.
Carter, a current state senator and a former City Council member and state representative, is also weighing a run.
"It's a major decision," he said. "I don’t take the role of mayor lightly, nor do I take the responsibility to my Senate district lightly. I just need to decide where I can serve the greater good of the New Orleans area."
Carter said he's been doing his due diligence on the race and has been "very flattered" by the support he's received. He said he expects to make a decision soon and is prepared to hit the ground running if he gets into the race.
The talk in recent weeks has been that Williams, who had long been rumored to be eyeing the city’s top political job, is instead considering running for re-election to his at-large seat on the council.
No clarity on that point was provided Friday. A spokeswoman for Williams would say only that he is not ready to make any political announcements.
In a slight winnowing of the field, recently ousted U.S. Attorney Ken Polite said last week he would not be running for mayor, squashing rumors that he might jump in.
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Meanwhile, calls for Charbonnet, who has served on the Municipal Court bench for nearly a decade, to jump into the mayor’s race have been increasing. Though she has publicly shunned the idea, she has acknowledged the recent swell of support.
“Because I’m a sitting judge, and out of respect for the spirit and the letter of the judicial canons, I’m not going to discuss or speculate on any political races right now,” she said Friday.
Charbonnet added that she is committed to running to replace former state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Paul Bonin, who won a Criminal District Court judgeship in December.
A few people have tossed around Cannizzaro’s name, and he could run without resigning as district attorney; his term in that job doesn’t end for another four years.
Cannizzaro is also just as likely to put his political muscle behind a preferred candidate, as he has before. A Friday statement from his spokesman was cryptic about which path he might take.
“District Attorney Cannizzaro is determined to ensure that the next mayor of New Orleans is prepared to address the public safety crisis that this city currently faces," assistant DA Christopher Bowman said.
There's also been speculation about Peterson’s interest, though that has been the case in previous municipal elections. And Peterson, who is chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, also was recently elected as vice chair of civic engagement and voter participation for the Democratic National Committee, a job that would put even more demands on her time.
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Trash magnate and reality TV star Torres, who could self-finance his campaign, said in an interview last month that he wasn’t likely to make up his mind on a mayoral run until the very end of qualifying, which runs July 12-14.
"My position is still the same," Torres said by email last week. "I won't make my decision until a few minutes before qualifying is over."