Danae Columbus: Gov. Edwards failed to ignite Orleans Parish voters

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Gov. John Bel Edwards kicks off his campaign July 8 with a rally on Thalia Street in the Lower Garden District. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Gov.  John Bel Edwards will face Republican Eddie Rispone in a Nov. 16 runoff in part because he was unable to get out all his base. While 45.3% of voters statewide cast their ballots in the race for governor yesterday, only 38.4% of New Orleanians voted.

“Edwards won big here four years ago. This go-round, he did not excite enough African-American voters, especially in New Orleans,” said one consultant. “If he wants to get re-elected he must do a better job of getting them to the polls.”

Perhaps some Orleans Parish voters failed to participate yesterday because of the LSU game. Perhaps they were turned off by the Johnny Anderson scandal, in which an African-American female alleged the governor did not care that one of his senior staffers sexually harassed her. More likely, voters just didn’t care. With early voting numbers continuing to grow, it appears that people who really care about elections vote early.

Runoff elections are a whole new ballgame. Although Edwards far outpaced Rispone, Republicans around the country will be showering this race with financial resources, staff and plenty of presidential surrogates. Even President Trump might return if poll numbers are close.

In a peak at other statewide races, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser easily defeated New Orleanian Willie Jones, though Jones received 70% of vote in Orleans Parish.  Gwen Collins-Greenup, who ran for secretary of state last year, forced current incumbent Kyle Ardoin into a runoff because there were two other Republicans in the race. Ardoin will win easily in November. Except for a few pockets of support across the state, Tim Temple was no match for Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. Let’s hope Donelon brings real reform to Louisiana’s sky-high insurance rates.

Hard as she tried, Mayor LaToya Cantrell simply could not sell Amendment 4 to enough voters statewide. While 64% of New Orleanians supported the measure, which would have eased property taxes for selected homeowners, 63% of statewide voters opposed it. Looks like affordable housing advocates must regroup to find other solutions.


As many readers probably know, the federal holiday Columbus Day is being celebrated today even though Columbus never set foot on American soil nor did he “discover” the lands that Native Americans had already been occupying for hundreds of years. What many probably don’t know is that the holiday was proclaimed by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892 as a means to tap down the outrage among Italian-Americans who were mortified by the historic lynching of 11 Italian immigrants wrongfully accused of taking part in the assassination of New Orleans popular police chief David Hennessy.

In a New York Times opinion column entitled “How Italians Became White,” author Brent Staples lays out the history of Italian immigration in New Orleans and the prejudice many Italians – especially those of Sicilian descent – endured. In the 1800s, New Orleans’ Italians were considered uncivilized, racially inferior pariahs not worthy of citizenship.  Of course the discrimination Italians felt could not compare to what African-Americans went through on their way to becoming equal under the law.

Today many New Orleanians of Italian descent play important roles in our community including Councilman Joe Giarrusso,  District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, and business leader Joe Cannizzaro, who also owns a business called Columbus Properties. Happy Columbus Day to all those who still celebrate the holiday!


In local races, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and the BOLD political organization both were victorious in yesterday’s elections. BOLD was able to easily re-elect their standard bearer Sen. Karen Carter Peterson who defeated Allen Borne Jr.

Millennial Matthew Willard and boomer Eugene Green, seen in February, will face off for the HD 97 seat in November. (Danae Columbus)

Jason Hughes won the HD 100 race with the support from BOLD and Richmond. He ran against Anthony Jackson, Jr. – a college student who mounted a good campaign. In HD 97 Richmond’s endorsed candidate, businessman Eugene Green, will face off against BOLD’s endorsed candidate tech executive Matt Willard, who ran first in the competition.  Green has been active in government for decades; Willard cut his teeth on public service. This will be tough competition.

In the HD 99 runoff, Richmond’s candidate business consultant Adonis Expose will take on S&WB staffer Candace Newell, a long-time member of BOLD. Just a few votes shy of a first primary victory, Newell but was forced into a runoff by third place finisher Jameel Shaheer.  Newell is articulate and good on the issues. Expose is well-liked and respect across the city.

Richmond also supported many other candidates who won outright or made runoffs last night, including in HD 91 where public defender Robert McKnight is competing against trail lawyer Mandie Landry. McKnight ran first in the primary, albeit by less than 20 votes.  Carling Dinkler was also an excellent candidate in that race. Dinkler started early, developed a strong platform and was very well-funded. For months he was the candidate to beat until Landry was able to connect with Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s constituency. As a trial lawyer, Landry’s fundraising was strong, as was her social media.  Yet with limited resources, McKnight methodically worked his core voters in African-American neighborhoods. His message resonated, and in true grassroots fashion McKnight got his voters to the polls. He will have to work exceedingly hard to duplicate that turnout in November.

Perhaps the most competitive race this season was in HD 98 where Aimee Adatto Freeman and Kea Sherman — two outstanding competitors — will meet in the runoff.  Freeman, a business consultant and community activist, has led the field the entire race. Sherman is a favorite among the voters she best connects with — small business owners, young professionals and women who want to be more involved in public life.  Both are strong education advocates and should be well funded in the runoff. This was a close race in which trial lawyer Ravi Sangisetty or education activist Carlos Zervigon could have made the run-off. Both are passionate candidates who should seek elected office again. They too can make a difference.

In HD 94, where approximately 40% of registered voters are Democrats, Republican incumbent Stephanie Hilferty has another five weeks to convince voters she is a better choice than Democratic challenger Tammy Savoie, a psychologist who ran against U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise last year.  Republican challenger Kirk Williamson, a young contractor, forced the runoff. An endorsement by Williamson would be helpful for Hilferty.

In the SD 3 runoff, state Rep. John Bagneris is up against state Rep Joe Bouie, also endorsed by Richmond.  Other successful candidates Richmond supported include former congressman Cleo Fields, who returns to the State Senate, term-limited Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears, who becomes a constable, St. John the Baptist Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard who becomes parish president, and Jefferson Parish state Rep. Rodney Lyons, who won re-election.

Gov. Edwards will be in New Orleans later this week as a special guest at District D Councilman Jared Brossett’s fundraiser.  Eddie Rispone, who rarely visited our city during the primary, should become much more visible. Both should be courting votes in New Orleans by pledging to increase New Orleans’ share of money generated from state sales taxes. It will be a quick 35 days until the runoff.

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

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 Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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