The winner of Saturday’s historic battle to elect the first female mayor of New Orleans will be the woman who does the best job of getting out her vote. Though all the polls still have City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell ahead against former Judge Desiree Charbonnet, insiders who are reading daily tracking polls believe that Cantrell’s lead has been shrinking as the race tightens up.
Early voting in the runoff was a little heavier than in the primary – especially by African-American voters in Council Districts D and E which are majority African-American. The hotly contested City Council race in District E which pits incumbent Councilmember James Gray against community activist Cyndi Nguyen could have inspired those voters to turn out early.
In contrast, more white voters than African-Americans early voted in Council District B which is no longer a predominately African-American district. African-American voters in Council Districts A and C also underperformed during early voting.
Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell is predicting about a 30 percent turnout, similar to the primary election. Statewide turnout is projected at just 12 percent.
Voter distrust, disappointment, and disinterest are at new highs. Citizens no longer believe that their elected officials can and will make a difference. In recent months the campaigns and third-party political action committees have spent more than a million dollars on negative advertising. This appears to be the new normal in American and New Orleans politics. While the negative attacks continue, candidates are also trying to paint glossy pictures as that one last image the public sees.
How will citizens decide who to vote for? Perhaps they will pull the lever for the candidates who scare them the least.
Desiree Charbonnet has been characterized as the pawn of her consultants and guilty of taking large donations from city contractors and businesses on Bourbon Street. While there are unscrupulous operators among the Bourbon business owners, not all of them can be painted with one brush stroke. Legitimate Bourbon Street businesses have been donating to campaigns for decades. Finance reports will show that many other candidates and elected officials have accepted their checks including Cantrell, Jason Williams, Jared Brossett, Joe Giarrusso and Helena Moreno.
While Charbonnet has been slammed for her consultant associations, Cantrell has been called out for financial improprieties – tax liens, ethics fines, questionable credit card spending. Many voters are firmly committed to Cantrell and have accepted her explanations on these issues. Perhaps some citizens can relate to their own credit card problems or wish they have a temporary, no-interest source of funding. Others probably consider Cantrell’s financial indiscretions unacceptable.
Either way, candidates who benefit from “separate” campaigns waged by political action committees surely will be thankful to the donors in those groups who could quickly reemerge on transition teams, inaugural committees or in appointed offices.
With just two days to go, a large number of undecided voters are still struggling to make those all-important decisions. Perhaps they will be moved by the phone calling, door knocking and sign waving at the basis of every well-coordinated get-out-the-vote effort. Each campaign has lined up skilled practitioners who have recruited or hired block captains, team leaders and hundreds of foot soldiers.
A good campaign will lead voters toward the polls but can’t always get them into the voting booth. Let’s see who does the best job of turning out their vote — and make sure you are in that number!
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 former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, 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 District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom and At-Large City Council candidate Helena Moreno.