Governor's race could look radically different if New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams jumps in _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Councilmember-At-Large Jason Williams, left, listens next to Councilmember-At-Large Stacey Head

It’s taken as a given in New Orleans political circles that Jason Williams has his eye on the 2018 mayoral race, but it now appears the City Council president is at least toying with setting his sights even higher: the Governor’s Mansion.

Williams said Thursday he will make a decision “very soon” about whether to become a late entry into this fall’s four-person gubernatorial race. His interest was first reported by LA Politics, a subscription news service focused on state politics.

In an interview, Williams said he is “100 percent committed” to New Orleans. But he said he’s received calls from people “all over the state” urging him to run for the state’s top job.

A run could be important because a number of crucial issues such as mental health care, environmental concerns and women’s issues have been all but ignored by the current field, Williams said.

“I feel like these are some serious issues that will directly affect the health of this state,” he said.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and state Rep. John Bel Edwards are in the midst of their campaigns for governor, with Edwards as the lone Democrat.

Should Williams decide to qualify, the state could be looking at a radically different governor’s race from the one that has been shaping up in recent months.

Vitter and Edwards consistently hold the top two spots in polls, though neither has enough support to win outright in the open primary. Most political observers expect Vitter then would win a runoff against Edwards by attracting most of the voters who previously cast ballots for the other two Republicans in the race.

With the state Democratic Party increasingly relying on its urban and African-American base as rural white voters gravitate toward the GOP, Williams — who is black — could potentially take a huge share of votes from Edwards, who is white and from Amite.

Splitting the Democratic vote between the two of them could be enough to catapult either Dardenne or Angelle into the second-place spot and a runoff against Vitter.

What would happen then is uncertain. Some speculate that most Democratic voters would choose either of those candidates over Vitter, potentially giving Dardenne or Angelle an edge in a one-on-one contest. Others think Vitter would be favored no matter whom he faces in a runoff.

Asked who was encouraging him to get into the race and to which party they belong, Williams declined to answer but said he would run as a Democrat.

For Williams, taking a shot at statewide office could give him a running start going into what could be a crowded field of mayoral candidates when Mitch Landrieu leaves office in 2018.

At the least, such an effort could raise his stature and give him access to a wider donor base.

Though his discussion of the governor’s race focused on the issues he feels have been ignored, Williams suggested that he would not join the field simply to shine a spotlight on specific topics.

“I don’t think anyone should get into anything without intending to win,” he said.

Councilman has dating advice for a poor man

An advocate calling for a higher wage for city contractors got some unexpected dating advice from New Orleans City Councilman James Gray on Thursday.

During the discussion of a “living wage” ordinance, one supporter told of his difficulties scraping by on low wages and mentioned that he wasn’t able to afford to take dates out to eat.

Gray offered a suggestion later in the meeting.

“I would say if you get hungry on your dates, I would say maybe look for something else,” Gray said. “I was always looking for something else on my dates.”

The council passed the measure, which requires city contractors and those who receive subsidies from the city to pay their employees at least $10.55 an hour, by a unanimous vote.

St. Bernard Council frustrated by Peralta

The St. Bernard Parish Council didn’t waste any time last week before asking Parish President David Peralta to resign after a state grand jury in Chalmette handed up a 22-count indictment against him.

It marked the fourth time he has faced criminal charges in the past 16 months.

Of course, Peralta refused to quit, despite a lengthy indictment alleging wrongdoing related to his position as parish president, including 11 counts of malfeasance and six counts of abuse of office.

Many observers say Peralta’s legal woes are a growing problem for the parish.

“I worked with the guy, and I tell you, he’s got a good knowledge of running government. It’s a shame that his personal life got involved and it’s mushroomed. It’s not only affected him, but me and the whole parish,” said former two-term Parish President Charlie Ponstein.

Ponstein said he would have resigned under the same conditions. “From a personal standpoint, I like his fortitude,” he said, “but from a parish standpoint, I just don’t think he’s helping our image and helping his own situation.”

Parish Councilman Guy McInnis, who plans to run against Peralta in the fall, said it’s “frustrating as an elected official” to explain to residents that Peralta isn’t likely to be going anywhere until his term is up in a few months.

“The only thing we can do is ask him to do the right thing, and our hands are tied,” he said. “We’re frustrated, but we have to continue to work with people in the administration, including him, to try to move our parish forward and to have proper oversight of what’s going on.”

Compiled by staff writers Jeff Adelson and Richard Thompson