Although the November elections for president, U.S. Senator, Congress and other races are still more than a month away, political insiders are already looking ahead to next year’s campaigns when a new mayor, city council and other municipal office-holders will be elected in the fall 2017 but take office in the spring of 2018. There will be several judicial races in March 2017 as well.
While the fall field is far from firm, candidates giving the mayor’s race consideration include former City Council President Oliver Thomas, former Judge Michael Bagneris, Councilmembers Jason Roger Williams and LaToya Cantrell, businessman Sidney Torres III, and a quartet of state legislators — J.P. Morrell, Karen Carter Peterson, Walt Leger and Troy Carter.
Though he served time in federal prison more than six years ago, Thomas has turned over a new leaf as a radio personality and public speaker who makes dozens of presentations to community groups and churches each month. He and his second wife Jasmine recently welcomed into the world Oliver Jr., who is sure to be a crowd pleaser on the campaign trail. Eligible to run because the Louisiana Supreme Court declared a law prohibiting his candidacy unconstitutional, Thomas could have beaten Mayor Mitch Landrieu eight years ago had he not been indicted.
Now a successful corporate lawyer practicing with Daniel Davillier, former Judge Michael Bagneris says running for mayor “is in his DNA.” Bagneris enjoyed broad support in the African-American community when he competed against Landrieu four years ago but ran a lackluster campaign.
If the race for mayor was held tomorrow, Councilmember Jason Roger Williams would probably be the top contender. A favorite among the Uptown business community and younger voters, Williams won his at-large seat by a solid margin and has continued to build his base. Eligible for re-election as councilmember at-large, Williams recently held a fundraiser.
Councilmember LaToya Cantrell has been dreaming about becoming New Orleans’ first woman mayor, but could also choose to run at-large. Either way she is definitely ready to move up beyond the council’s district level. Well-liked by her constituents, Cantrell is aggressive and has built broad support in the African-American community. She is known to be pro-development in the Canal Street/CBD corridor.
Cantrell actually likes to campaign and has been making her way across New Orleans in anticipation of a citywide race. Powerhouse lawyer Darlene Jacobs is throwing her considerable support behind Cantrell and hosting a fundraiser on October 21.
Term-limited House-Pro Tem Walt Leger, a well-respected legislator, would like to be New Orleans’ second white mayor in this century. He also has a fundraiser set for mid-October. Leger would need to build a larger citywide base, especially in the African-American community.
Many heavy hitters have approached State Senator J.P. Morrell about making the race. Also term-limited, Morrell would have to balance his political desires with the financial needs of his three small children and wife who is currently attending nursing school. Armed with substantial name recognition, Morrell might jump in if the right people asked and helped build a war chest. He is also young enough to put his family first for now and wait for a future race, perhaps statewide.
Going to Washington to play a substantive role in Hillary Clinton’s presidential administration would probably be the first choice of State Senator and Louisiana Democratic Party Chair Karen Carter Peterson. She is a poised speaker and strong competitor who could enter a local race if Trump became president.
Some insiders looking for a candidate are also talking to State Senator Troy Carter, a former city councilmember and state representative with many years of governmental experience. Carter is enjoying his new status in the state senate though he has not totally ruled out a run for mayor.
Bringing up the rear of the current candidate list is businessman extraordinaire Sidney Torres IV who could self-fund much of his campaign. Younger voters especially like Torres because he speaks his mind. It remains to be seen if they would be willing to elect another businessman as mayor.
Both at-large seats would be up for grabs if Williams qualifies for mayor. Candidates already talking about the seats include District A Councilmember Susan Guidry, District D Councilmember Jared Brossett, State Rep Helena Moreno, and perhaps Cantrell.
Stacy Head is term-limited and is said not to be running for mayor. Friends say she is forming a Political Action Committee where she will be the king maker instead of the king. Head will probably find it relatively easy to raise money due to her strong relationships in the business community and her PAC associates Anne Redd and Nyka Scott.
As for the district council races, Nadine Ramsey and James Gray are expected to be easily re-elected. Early candidates talking about the open seats in district races include former judicial candidate Mark Vicknair and former YLC president Joe Giarrusso, grandson of the 1970’s council president by the same name, who are likely to face off in District A.
In District B former Zulu King Jay Banks who also heads the Dryades YMCA and the James M. Singleton Charter School could compete against OPSB board President Seth Bloom, who did not seek re-election. If Brossett does run at-large, look for State Rep. Joe Bouie to enter the District D race. Bouie barely lost to Brossett previously. Eugene Green would then seriously look at Bouie’s legislative seat.
The ability of candidates to win a race is based in part on who qualifies against them and what issues are in the forefront during the campaign. It’s always a crap shoot!
SHOULD JEFF PARISH PRESIDENT MIKE YENNI RESIGN?
All Mike Yenni ever wanted to be was a well-respected parish-wide political leader like his grandfather and uncle. He was even willing to change his last name to theirs. Clearly, this achievement is not in the cards. With Jefferson politicians like Steve Scalise backing away from Yenni, perhaps he should consider resigning rather than face public humiliation and damage to his family. Maybe Yenni believes he didn’t do anything wrong, as political consultant Greg Buisson suggested. The federal government evidently feels differently.
If Yenni resigns, former parish president John Young could seek the office once again. So could former council president Elton Lagasse who Yenni defeated last year. Another obvious choice would be Parish Councilmember Cynthia Lee Cheng, a rising star in Jefferson Parish.
WHO WILL REPLACE AVIATION DIRECTOR IFTIKHAR AHMED?
By all measures Iftikhar Ahmed has been an excellent director of aviation. He also hated New Orleans politics. Rather than taking any chances with the next mayor, he grabbed another position in Rhode Island – probably not as prestigious, but a safe place to land.
With acting airport director Walter Kryoski already in place, the Aviation Board could conduct a national search. One of the top candidates should be former New Orleans assistant director of aviation Mario Rodriguez who now heads the Indianapolis Airport and previously ran the San Jose Airport.
A University of Miami and Kennedy School of Government graduate with almost thirty years of aviation experience, Rodriguez knows the industry and New Orleans and would be an innovative leader who could help expand service to Spanish-speaking countries like Cuba.
Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by her public relations firm are Foster Campbell, Regina Bartholomew, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.