No Surprises on First Day of Qualifying

Photo credit: Danae Columbus

The red sea parted at Criminal District Court Wednesday morning when Mayor LaToya Cantrell and her handlers arrived just before 8 a.m. to qualify for a second term. Though some candidates had been waiting in the courthouse’s un-airconditioned hallway for close to an hour, almost all gave up their spots so that Cantrell – smartly coiffed and resplendent in a stylish ocean-blue suit and pink mask – could move to the front of the line.Once inside Cantrell smoothly navigated the qualifying process overseen by Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell, also the parish’s Chief Elections Officer. While Cantrell has frequently tried to cut Morrell’s budget which would have reduced his staff, on Wednesday she was clearly pleased by their efficiency.

Seven other candidates also qualified for mayor on Wednesday, but all currently lack the resources – both fiscal and manpower-to truly compete against Cantrell. Of the current field, established businesswoman Leilani Heno is the closest competitor. Others include Republican business consultant Vina Nguyen, who admitted she had not received the vaccination to prevent Covid-19; New Orleans East freelance photographer Nathaniel “Nate” Jones; Navy veteran and IT specialist Douglas Bentley; attorney and environmentalist Luke Fontana who qualified via proxy; community activist and former candidate Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste; and restaurant manager Matt Hill, who also ran for mayor four years ago.

Photo Credit: Danae Columbus

With this kind of line-up, Cantrell should win in the first. Yet there is talk in political circles that a former elected official might throw their hat in the ring on Friday. This individual is extremely outspoken on crime and would challenge Cantrell on that issue.

Entering the race for mayor at the last minute takes a lot of guts – and confidence that the necessary funding will magically come together. Some pundits believe that the Let’s Save NOLA group is already having an impact through their well-produced radio spots. The more they pound on Cantrell, the easier it will be for a well-funded articulate candidate with the right message to cut into her lead.

Morrell, who is not seeking re-election, told reporters early this week that this election is critical to the future of New Orleans and that the pandemic has caused voters to re-think what kind of city they want to live in and who should lead them. “Selecting good leaders to move New Orleans forward will be the key to the city’s success,” Morrell said.

Cantrell sent an email to her supporters Wednesday to remind them that she is battle-tested and ready to complete the work at hand.  “I’ve proven I can take on major challenges head-on from making tough calls to fighting for our fair share…Since day one, I have been picking up cans that have been kicked down the road for far too long. It’s time to complete the work. Serving New Orleans for two decades as a community leader, City Councilmember and Mayor, I have consistently delivered results. I want to continue to serve during these critical times to deliver even more.”

Sixty-one candidates signed up on the first day of qualifying. In addition to those running for mayor, Sheriff Marlin Gusman drew three competitors as did Assessor Erroll Williams. Three candidates also signed up for the open Clerk of Criminal District Court seat. Council President Helena Moreno drew one opponent – Kenneth Cutno. So far three candidates -Councilmembers Kristin Palmer and Jared Brossett along with former state senator J.P. Morrell – will battle it out for the Division 2 At-Large seat. Councilmember Joe Giarrusso, who brought his young daughter and wife along, is being challenged by Lakeview progressive Bob Murrell. Two ladies have taken on Councilmember Jay Banks who says he is proud to run on his record of accomplishments.  The open Council District C seat has drawn five candidates from the east and west bank. Eight candidates are already vying for the open Council District D with at least one more scheduled to sign up. District E Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen has drawn three challengers on the first day.

Photo credit: Danae Columbus
Photo credit: Danae Columbus
Photo Credit: Danae Columbus
Photo credit: Danae Columbus

Coroner Dwight McKenna and Clerk of Civil District Court Chelsey Richard Napoleon are so far running unopposed. Likewise real estate broker Delisha Boyd is the only candidate to sign up for State Representative District 92.

Qualifying continues until Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee will host a social for all the candidates and OPDEC members Friday from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the WXYZ bar in the Aloft Hotel, 225 Baronne St. The event is free and open to the public with a cash bar.

Once the field is set and the court challenges are over, Big Easy Magazine will take a close look at the candidates and the issues in each race. Until then, keep qualifying!

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