Apr 202017
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Yesterday’s announcement by Gambit that Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet will resign her position on Friday and is likely to enter the race for mayor signals how hot this contest will become. Charbonnet was elected citywide three times and is a charismatic candidate who will attract female and African-American voters, especially those from the Creole neighborhoods.

Many white voters could also be comfortable with Charbonnet, 48, because of her work within the court system. She is also expected to immediately have the support of a diverse group of elected officials and political organizations who encouraged her candidacy.

Charbonnet’s entrance into the race will obviously play have a direct impact on Councilmember LaToya Cantrell, one of three already announced candidates (whom I profiled in February). It may also make Rep. Walt Leger (profiled last fall) re-think what office he will seek next. Leger has hired consultants and has been raising money with the intent of running in the fall. He could re-think the mayor’s race and instead choose a City Council contest.

Another mayoral candidate is Michael Bagneris, who gave up his Civil District Court judgeship four years ago to run unsuccessfully against Mitch Landrieu. Bagneris had served on the bench 20 years. Bagneris is the kind of candidate that working class voters can relate to. Though he grew up in the Desire public housing project, Bagneris made something of himself. He received two history degrees from Yale University and graduated from Tulane Law School.

After practicing law with noted civil rights lawyer Bruce Waltzer, Bagneris served as Executive Counsel to Mayor Dutch Morial in what was then considered a progressive administration. He is bright, experienced in city government, and capable of being a great mayor. As a former judge, he has seen and heard everything and would be a law and order candidate. Bagneris keenly understands how the political process works and knows how to put a winning campaign together.

Yet his experiences during the last two decades are not as a policy maker. Bagneris will have to develop clear, bold ideas to move the City forward. During the last race, Bagneris stressed public safety, creating more business opportunities for the middle class, support of the film industry, increased quality of life for New Orleans East residents.

Older voters know and respect the Bagneris family name. His ability to make the runoff will be based on how well Bagneris is able to freshen his message and make it relevant to the new generation of voters who don’t know him. Either way, Bagneris will challenge the other candidates to keep the dialogue focused and on track.

Bagneris declined to be interviewed for this story and said he would not be making public comment until after his formal announcement in May.


In full disclosure, I worked for Civil District Court Judge Paula Brown in her recent race for Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal against CDC Judge Tiffany Chase. But, with respect to both candidates, I though they ran some the cleanest, friendliest campaigns I’ve witnessed in recent New Orleans history.

Both judges were attractive, evenly-matched candidates, and well respected in the community. While Chase enjoyed the support of most elected officials, Brown outworked Chase in the churches and in the grassroots community. In the end the voters made their choice by a narrow margin.

“I am so thankful and grateful that the citizens of New Orleans selected me as their new judge,” said Brown last night at a reception hosted uptown by Hillary and Mickey Landry. Brown, a highly spiritual person, said she felt “very blessed” and prayed hard before deciding to run. “I was moved by the Spirit,” she said.

Several elected officials including Judge Robin Pittman and School Board members Leslie Ellison and Nolan Marshall Jr. turned out to greet Brown as well as Joe Bruno, Bob Tucker, Hillary Porter, Allain Hardin, Pat Kehoe, Jerry Sprague, Steve Lane, Renee Lapeyrolerie, Ed Moreno, Caleb Didriksen, and Joe Giarrusso, who is close to formally announcing his candidacy for the City Council, District A.

Growing up in a small Mississippi town, Brown is one of many Americans who parlayed her love of sports into a college scholarship. After graduating from Tulane’s Freeman School of Business, Brown went on to Southern University Law School. Brown frequently tells the story of driving a car during law school that had a hole in the floorboard through which water often seeped in to show her humble roots.

Brown later clerked for now Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson who will swear her in Monday night at NOCCA’s Nims Black Box Theatre. Her investiture Monday coincides with the anniversary of her mother’s death and she will be honoring her mother’s memory that evening.

Brown has been working hard to complete her CDC docket and prepare for a seamless transition. Most of her current staff will be staying to work with the interim judge until next fall’s election. Meanwhile, Judge Tiffany Chase is said to be considering another appeals court race in the near future.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and work for City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include judicial candidates Suzanne Montero and Paula Brown.

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