Danae Columbus: Can a Republican win a citywide election?

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Jay Batt and Scott Shea celebrate Republican successes in 2017.  (Uptown Messenger file photo)

Not since Peggy Wilson was last elected as an at-large member of the New Orleans City Council in the mid 1990s has a New Orleans Republican won a citywide race. But that didn’t stop Republican lawyer Scott Shea from joining the crowded field of candidates for Judge, First City Court, Division B.

Shea himself served two years on the City Council and hails from a family of judges. His brother Mark currently serves on Traffic & Municipal Court. His father, former Municipal Court Judge John Shea, enjoyed an illustrious 30-year career on the bench. His late uncle Frank Shea was a no-nonsense Criminal District Court jurist.

“The Shea family has a history of service in the community that will help Scott,” said one consultant who is not directly involved in the race. “Yet, African-American voters in New Orleans do not have a history of voting for Republicans.”

A quick review of the last statewide elections shows that little-known black candidates carried Orleans Parish over Republican incumbents. New Orleans is still a small town where people remember “your momma and ‘em.” Perhaps Shea will succeed as a coalition builder who can just line up solid Republican support and also attract enough more senior Democrats familiar with his family name to make the runoff.  If not, he could be the spoiler whose support other contenders will want.

The Division B race also includes former legislative candidate Aylin Acikalin, a vocal advocate of progressive issues; former Criminal Court candidate Jacqueline Gilds, who owns a small steakhouse on Broad Street;  tax attorney Schalyece Harrison, sister of former judicial candidate Taetrece Harrison who was involved in the Krewe of Nyx T-shirt litigation; Glago Williams LLC. attorney Marissa Hutabarat who is married to former assistant city attorney Mark El-Amm;  oil and gas attorney Sara Lewis who clerked for federal Judge Fredericka Wicker; and Robbins Graham who recently retired from the state’s Office of Family and Children’s Services where he worked on child support issues.

This election will be a low-dollar, low visibility, low-turnout race.  Few lawyers are interested in First City Court, which handles small claims and evictions on the East Bank of Orleans Parish. Most candidates will have to self-fund their campaigns or rely on family and friends. It’s exactly the kind of race where a hard-working first time candidate has a chance to score.


By the time qualifying closed last Friday, a surprising number of candidates had qualified for parish and state Democratic and Republican committees. “There was obviously a feel in the community that new faces were needed at the grassroots level,” said a former elected official.

In Council District A, 45 candidates will compete for the 14 available slots including School Board member Sarah Usdin, former legislative candidate Carling Dinkler, pediatrician Elizabeth Sangisetty, whose husband Ravi ran for the legislature, former Public Service Commissioner Irma Muse Dixon, former U.S. Senate candidate Caroline Fayard, former judicial candidate Rick Duplantier, and a half-dozen incumbents including Mindy and Mark Brickman and Ryan and Giselle Banks.

Council District B drew 46 candidates including former Councilwoman Stacy Head, former School Board member Seth Bloom, political consultants Kristine Breithaupt, Cheron Brylski, Devin Johnson, Dana Peterson and Nyka Scott, former candidates Kea Sherman, Robert McKnight and Timothy David Ray, State Rep. Mandie Landry, Cantrell Chief of Staff John Pourciau and several incumbents, including Jonathan Stewart and Katie Baudouin. [Editor’s note: Danae Columbus is a running for re-election as a Council District B member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee.]

Council District C brought out 32 competitors including Women on the Move leader Roberta Brown and John Davillier Sr., husband of Judge Tracey Flemings Davilier and incumbents Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, state Sen. Troy Carter, Constable Ed Shorty, Clerk of Second City Court Darren Lombard, School Board member Leslie Ellison, former Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey and others.

Forty-four candidates signed up in Council District D including School Board member Ethan Ashley, former candidates Tammy Savoie, Kenny Bordes and Brandon Gregoire, former School Board member Cynthia Cade, neighborhood activist Gretchen Bradford, Leslie Bouie, wife of state Sen. Joe Bouie, and incumbents Councilman Jared Brossett, state Rep. Matt Willard, Randy Greenup, Sandra Green Thomas, LaTanja Silvester-Lewis, Durrell Laurent and Maple Gaines.

In Council District E, 41 candidates entered the competition including former candidates Shawon Bernard, Kevin Guilory, Anthony Jackson, Jr., state Rep. Jason Hughes, Clerk of Court Chelsey Napoleon Richard, former Zulu Queen Donna Glapion, city staffers Lena Craig Stewart and Barbara Lacen Keller, consultant Brian Egana, and such incumbents Clerk of First City Court Austin Badon, former Councilmember Cynthia Willard Lewis, Alicia Clivens Plummer and Raquel Greenup Richmond, wife of Congressman Cedric Richmond.

The enthusiasm Democratic candidates felt for qualifying for parish executive committee was not shared by Republicans. In Council District A, 18 candidates qualified for the 14 positions including current chairman Jay Batt, vice chairman Kirk Williamson, Republican State Party Chair Louis Gurvich, and a trios of Bruneaus — Adrian, Chrissy and Jeb.  The Council District B race drew 12 competitors including incumbents Mark Behar and Brian Trascher. Only nine candidates qualified in Council District C including lawyer Bob Ellis and incumbent Zach Tamburrino. Thirteen residents of Council District D signed up including incumbents Betsy Stoner, Joseph Sobol, State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, Raphael Perales and newcomer Zach Schultz, son of political consultant Bill Schultz. In Council District E, no one qualified.

In the Democratic State Central Committee races only Karen Carter Peterson, Pooja Prazid and Stacy Riley Sr. were elected without opposition. Because of pending litigation, no candidates were able to qualify for Republican State Central Committee.


Rumors are circulating that City Councilman Jason Williams is reconsidering the race for Orleans Parish District Attorney, which will be held in the fall of 2020. Williams chairs the council’s Criminal Justice Committee and has consistently been an outspoken critic of current DA Leon Cannizzaro. Yet Williams’ has not been raising funds for the race or making the rounds of neighborhood and political groups.

Some pundits believe Williams’ focus could be shifting to the lucrative law practice he has built as well as his growing family. Not so, say Williams insiders. As current Council Vice President (and president again in May 2020), Williams is in a “great position to raise money” and can schedule a fundraiser “in a heartbeat” that would be attended by dozens of city consultants and political players. Furthermore, he has unfettered access to the media and can basically make news whenever he wants.  “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” explained one consultant. Until Cannizzaro signals his intentions, Williams can stay the course he has set.

Meanwhile other candidates are considering the race including Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter who is expected to step down from the bench in the coming months. Hunter is thought to be hiring Karen Carvin and Deno Seder to handle his campaign. Former Criminal Court Chief Judge Keva Landrum Johnson also previously expressed interest in the race but is said to have decided to stay put.

Although Cannizzaro has faced a number of controversies in recent years, he is known to be a fighter who does not easily give up. Cannizzaro could well hold his cards close to the vest until qualifying later this summer and then wage a fast and furious race.


State Rep. Mandie Landry has a debt to retire and supporters to thank. Join her Saturday evening at 7 p.m. at Silky’s, 3816 Magnolia St., in the heart of House District 91. House District 99 State Rep Candace N. Newell will hold an Inauguration Reception on Friday, Jan. 17, at the Lakefront Airport from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m.  There will be a Candidate Happy Hour tonight at 5 p.m. at Twelve Mile Limit, 550 S. Telemachus St. Come network with other candidates and learn the ins and outs of campaigning.


[Clarification: An earlier version of this column may have included potentially misleading information about the relationship between Tucker’s qualifying address and her candidacy. The version below has been updated and clarified.]

Iam Christian Tucker, a candidate for Democratic State Central Committee, 97th Representative District, Office A, qualified for office Wednesday, Jan. 8, using an address the briefly differed from her homestead exemption. When contacted about the issue, Tucker said that she pays property taxes on multiple residences and thought she had already changed her homestead exemption to the home she currently occupies. She then contacted the Assessor’s Office to make that change, and her candidacy was not affected by the issue.

Danae Columbus

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. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. She can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.

This column was updated on Saturday, Jan. 18, to disclose that Columbus has qualified as a District B candidate for re-election in the Democratic Parish Executive Committee race. The information on Iam Tucker was clarified to show her candidacy is not in question.

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