Viewpoint: Campaign finance reports provide bird’s-eye view of race

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Sample ballots line the hallway outside of the Registrar of Voters. (Danae Columbus)

With the Nov. 3 elections just weeks away, the newly released campaign finance reports provide a long-awaited snapshot on how the various local races are unfolding. Several trends are evident.  

Money is tight in almost every race across the board, forcing most candidates to dip into their own pockets to keep going and also attract donors large and small from outside the region. With the exception of law firms and supporters of the new PAC for Justice, many members of the business community have been sitting these races out, perhaps not realizing how important they are to public safety and quality of life. Finally, a number of more progressive donors, their associated consultants and style of campaigning are bringing generational change to our politics.  

Going into the final few weeks, which judicial candidate reported the most cash on hand? Criminal Court Section L Judge Franz Zibilich has been sitting on a war chest of almost $200,000, which far exceeds everyone else including Orleans Parish district attorney candidate Keva Landrum, who has been raising money exceedingly well.  

Generally known as a tough but fair prosecutor who arrives at the courthouse early and moves his docket quickly, Zibilich has successfully courted major donors including Fred Herman, Bob Harvey, Joe Georgusis, Christi and Gerald Nielsen, and Tony Russo.  Former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg is chairing his campaign. He has the resources to run full throttle in the final weeks.  

Yet, Zibilich is thought to be in a tough race against Angel Harris, one of the cadre of Black and female progressives vying for a seat on the bench. Currently senior counsel with the Justice Collaborative, Harris reports less than $14,000 cash on hand and received her only $5,000 gift from an out-of-state donor. 

Harris has attracted a new diverse crop of small givers, including Stanford Rosenthal, Olivia Woolam, Russell Barksdale, William Boggs, Gregory Carter, Emily Maw and Bruce Reilly as well as better-known contributors like Henry Coaxum, Susan Guidry, Ruth Kullman, Nancy Aronson, Sarah Usdin and Randy Fertel.  Many of these donors are spreading their money around to a number of the younger progressive candidates, a definite sign of changing times and values.

In the red-hot race between Paul Sens and Meghan Garvey for Municipal and Traffic Court, Garvey put together a 300-person donor base with givers from New York, Washington, Portland, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Allentown, Pa.  Sens’ fundraising lagged behind during the reporting period but has picked up. His strength is based on his support among elected officials starting with Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the alphabet of political organizations that will be carrying his message on Election Day.   

Criminal Court Section E candidate Derwyn Bunton, on leave as head public defender, has attracted approximately 400 mostly small donors from New Orleans and across the country. Loyola Law professor Hector Linares is among those leading Bunton’s campaign. Edith Linares pitched in $1,000 as did Lauren Bierbaum of San Francisco. Mark Cunningham, a partner at Jones Walker and former president of the Louisiana Bar Association, supports Bunton at the $3,000 level.  

Seasoned criminal defense attorney Rhonda Goode-Douglas, Bunton’s opponent, has relied on more than 175 local donors such as Mandie Landry, Iam Tucker, John Fuller, Jeffrey Hufft, Darrell Saizan and Frank DeSalvo. She has invested heavily in polling as well as building support via political organizations.  Like several other candiates, Goode-Douglas has retained the services of political consultant Cagney Sanders-Goodley, a New Orleans native who is now the go-to field operative for the progressive set.  

Though the need for strong Juvenile Court judges is especially important to public safety in New Orleans, the race for Juvenile Court Section F with Ranord Darensburg, Tenee Felix and Niki Roberts has attracted relatively fewer donors. Running as part of the progressive pack, Felix has the most funds remaining in part because of two $5,000 donations from Hindolo and Ohme Entin of Houston.  She also pulled in donors from Washington, Oakland, Portland and Vermont.   

John P. Sapir, son of former political heavyweight Eddie Sapir, is chairing Roberts’ campaign. The DA’s lead prosecutor in Juvenile Court, Roberts has received donations from Micki Landry, Steven Lane, George McHugh III, Jude Marullo and Charlotte Sapir.  Darensburg has the support of Lloyd Villavasso, Bobby Major and Michelle Rousseau.  He has been betting on social media to increase his awareness among voters and will benefit from an Election Day push by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and his team.   

The Criminal Court Division D race which pits former Judge Pro Tempore Graham Bosworth against no-nonsense prosecutor Kimya Holmes, is another race where the presence of the young progressives’ tag-team style campaign can be seen. Both candidates have poured significant personal dollars into their campaigns. With developer Pres Kababcoff serving as Bosworth’s chairman, Bosworth will be supported by the PAC for Justice. Other Bosworth donors include his mother Gretchen Bosworth, Jon Renaudin, Gregor Fox, Robert Wiegand and Virginia Boulet. 

Holmes, a former prosecutor and attorney for the Capital Defense Project of Southern Louisiana, decided to become a lawyer because of the injustice she suffered as a crime victim. She counts Blake Jones, Kerry Cuccia, Francis Fayard, Anthony Irpino and Tony Dooley among her supporters. Both Holmes and Bosworth reported approximately $50,000 cash remaining.   

Though Lakeisha Jefferson lags behind Judge Bernadette D’Souza in the Civil District Court Division K race, she is giving D’Souza a run for her money. President of the National Association of Women Judges, D’Souza was integral in establishing the dedicated family court seat.  

Reporting more than $80,000 cash on hand, D’Souza is supported by James Garvey, Richard Perque, Paige Sensebrenner and liberal donors like Susan Hess, Carol Neff, Susan Good, Jill Israel and Mara Kupperman.  New Orleans tax attorney Alex Glaser, whose mother Cathy was a prolific fundraiser for the Anti-Defamation League, is heading up the campaign.  Through the NAWJ, D’Souza is working to create a scholarship in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime member.

Campaigning and raising money for more than a year, Jefferson has the strong support of attorneys Cynthia Samuel, Theon Wilson and other practitioners who are unhappy with D’Souza’ demeanor and operating style. Additional donors include Mandie Landry, Emile Bagneris, Sundiata Haley, Peter Hamilton and Jacqueline McPherson.  

Early voting begins Oct. 16 at five locations across the city. It’s not too late to register to vote online or to request a mail-in ballot. Download the state’s Geaux Vote app to get ballot and poll information on your phone. 

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. Columbus can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: This column was corrected to reflect that Hector Linares is not the chairman of  Derwyn Bunton’s campaign. He is the treasurer. In addition, Mark Cunningham donated $3,000 (not $5,000) to the Bunton campaign. 

One thought on “Viewpoint: Campaign finance reports provide bird’s-eye view of race

  1. Thanks for the hard work on researching fundraising/ donors. This is the number factor in being a public servant. No matter how great of a leader one maybe but first you have to get elected and it’s a pretty penny.

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