Few Surprises Half Way Till Election Day

Voting season returns.

With the October 9th municipal and special elections just six weeks away, there are few surprises as most incumbents and candidates – who have the financial chops to run real campaigns – are landing endorsements and getting ready for the last lap of the competition, which usually begins Labor Day.

As expected, COVID-19 has thoroughly changed campaigns. In person events are scarce. Zoom meet and greets and endorsement meetings lack that personal touch. Candidates accustomed to knocking on doors are finding many citizens – including chronic older voters – afraid to answer. Social media is still an important tool but a candidate can never be sure how many voters are actually “getting” those messages.

Fundraising is also more difficult, especially for lesser-known candidates. Well-positioned incumbents already have or are raising the dollars they need. Some newcomers anticipated their money needs in advance and set aside personal funds, arranged loans or were able to gather a small cadre of supporters to get started. Many of the current candidates failed to show even a dollar raised on the 90-days prior to election campaign finance report. The 30-day out report is due September 9th. 

International supply chain issues has driven up overall the costs of campaigns from vinyl for non-electronic billboards to signs to paper and printing for hand cards and direct mail. Postage is also going up next week. In the end, direct mail will be the best tool to reach voters. 

Mayor LaToya Cantrell has the largest and most successful campaign operation. Armed with a plethora of endorsements, Cantrell reported almost $700,000 cash-on-hand in the 90-day report and has continued to rake in the cash. She had a successful fundraiser last week and will be honored a virtual event for women donors in conjunction with Emily’s List on August 24.

Though Cantrell has 13 opponents, only LeiLani Heno, who has been endorsed by School Board member Carlos Zervigon and Rainbow Advocates -a new group which support LGBTQIA rights, reported cash-on-hand in the 90-day filing. In addition, Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste, endorsed by the New Orleans Coalition, is thought to be the only other mayoral candidate to have scored even one endorsement. Batiste said by email that he expects additional endorsements “soon.”

In Council-At-Large Division 1, City Council President Helena Moreno is also blessed with every endorsement to date and a $200,000 campaign war chest 90-days out. Kenneth Cutno, Moreno’s opponent, made several good points during the campaign but has not gotten much traction. Cutno had not filed any reports with the state ethics board since 2017 when he ran previously.

In Council-At-Large Division 2, former State Senator J.P. Morrell has the largest number of endorsements (Alliance for Good Government, Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee (OPDEC), New Orleans Coalition, IDEA) and posted the most funds ($207,942) available 90-days out. He was followed closely by District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer ($189,525) who has been endorsed by RDO, State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, and State Reps Mandie Landry and Candace Newell among others.  

District D Councilmember Jared Brossett is running third in available funds ($93,948) as of the last filing. His website lists one endorsement, the AFL-CIO. Green Party-endorsed candidate Bart Everson, a media artist at Xavier University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching, is using the campaign to educate voters on environmental issues. 

District A Councilmember Joseph I Giarrusso III, is probably winning the competition for best-funded ($219,161) and most popular district councilmember. Giarrusso’s endorsements come from all corners of the community – Congressman Troy Carter, State Reps Stephanie Hilferty, Aimee Adatto Freeman, Royce Duplessis and Candace Newell, etc. Available funding touted on his 90-day report was second only to Cantrell. Murrell, a progressive and Misko, a Libertarian, are offering new ideas but are no match for Giarrusso. At the 90-day deadline, Neither Murrell nor Misko had even filed a statement of campaign organization.  

Councilmember District B Jay Banks, is fighting hard to hold his own in a district that is no longer majority Black. Banks reported only a little more than $7,000 cash-on-hand six weeks ago, but has probably raised significant funds since then. None of the three women running against him– Lesli Harris, Rella Zapletal and Roz Thibodeaux – reported any fundraising at the 90-days deadline.  

Banks has received a number of key endorsements including Governor John Bel Edwards and the Alliance for Good Government. But has lost to Harris at OPDEC and IWO. Harris is also being supported by her former neighbor, DA Jason Williams and the New Orleans Coalition. 

Neither Zapletal nor Thibodeaux responded to a request for information on endorsements they had received. Banks will not be able to avoid a runoff with one of the female trio. In fact, he will need significant crossover from Whites and females to win re-election. 

In the open Council District C seat, attorney and former City Council staffer Freddie King III has long been planning for this race. He reported $80,000 cash on hand including donations and a personal loan. King has been endorsed by more than a dozen elected officials and organizations including Congressman Troy Carter, State Senators Jimmy Harris and Gary Carter, as well as OPDEC and the AFL-CIO.

The big question in the C race is which of the other six contenders will make the runoff with King. The city’s smallest council district by number of voters, District C is still predominately Black. White voters could decide they prefer a White councilmember and cast their ballots for long-time city employee Stephen Mosgrove of Algiers or French Quarter resident Frank Perez. Perez has been endorsed by the Forum for Equality, UNITY, Rainbow Advocates and Ambush Magazine. This district has many gay and progressive voters.

Other options include coffee shop owner and former Marine Alonzo Knox, non-profit executive Stephanie Bridges who previously ran for criminal court judge, as well as Barbara Waiters who most recently worked for the Downtown Development District. King is the only candidate to have filed a 90-day campaign finance report.

Businessman and former government official Eugene Green is the clear leader in the Council District D race where 14 candidates are seeking the position. Green started the campaign with $58,000 and has received the lion’s share of endorsements including the Alliance for Good Government, OPDEC, and State Senator Joe Bouie.   

Mariah Moore, founder of the House of Tulip, reported $14,000 raised and said yesterday her current fundraising total is $30,000. Moore has been endorsed by Rainbow Advocates, the Forum for Equality, LPAC, the Victory Fund and Ambush Magazine. Green and Moore are the only two candidates in the D race who filed a campaign finance report with the state ethics board 90-days out.  

Non-profit executive Troy Glover and charter school leader Timolynn (Tim) Sams have also been favorably received at forums along with businessman Mark Lawes, Robert (Bob) Murray, brother of former State Senator Ed Murray, public administrator Chantrisse Burnett, and small business owner Morgan Clevenger, daughter of restaurateur JoAnn Clevenger. 

Republican Chelsey Ardoin has been endorsed by the Orleans Parish Republic Executive Committee and LAGOP Secretary Michael Bayham. Lawes has been endorsed by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

More than 70% of voters in Council District D are Democrats and Black. More than 50% of the district’s voters are over the age of 45. The candidate who can best mobilize a sizeable voter base will find themselves in the runoff with Green. 

The problems in Council District E are legendary – too many blighted properties, illegal dumping, a lack of shopping and dining options, crime out-of-control coupled with an exceedingly slow response time from NOPD officers. Whether she is fully responsible or not, District E Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen has been blamed by her opponents for not having solved these issues during the last three years.   

With his encyclopedic knowledge of city government, comeback kid and former Councilmember Oliver Thomas continues to convince voters that he has the answers. Also making that same pitch are L-9 advocates Vanessa Gueringer Johnson, pastor Aaron Miller, former State Rep. John Bagneris and Michon Copelin, daughter of former State Rep. Sherman Copelin. Bagneris reported $321.36 available on his 2020 annual report. 

Nguyen, who reported $4,616, has been endorsed by RDO. Thomas has received the endorsement of OPDEC, IWO, the New Orleans Coalition and others. Ngyuen was elected because District E voters wanted change. Change might be in the air again.   

Assessor Erroll Williams is being challenged by three competitors – Carlos Hornbrook, Andrew “Low Tax” Gressett, and Anthony Brown. With $185,326 cash on hand at the 90-day deadline, Williams appears to be weathering the storm well. He has received a number of endorsements including OPDEC. 

Though many citizens don’t like how much property tax they pay, Williams’ opponents have yet to throw a knock-out punch. Both previous candidates, neither Hornbrook nor Gressett have filed with the ethics board since 2012.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman has a much tougher race. Former Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson has mounted a challenge that has been playing out at forums across the community. The two are splitting endorsements including OPDEC (Gusman) and New Orleans Coalition (Hudson). They share support from IWO. This is probably the most competitive race of the season.

Also in the sheriff’s race are Quentin Brown and Healing Minds founder Janet Hays. Gusman reported $291,419 cash on hand at the 90-day deadline.  Hudson showed $4,036 available funds for the same period.

Another hot race is the clash between First City Court Clerk Austin Badon and Second City Court Clerk Darren Lombard to replace retiring long-time Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell. Patricia Boyd-Robertson is the third candidate in the race. Both Boyd-Robertson and Lombard previously worked in the clerk’s office. Morrell has endorsed Lombard.  

Lombard and Badon each enjoy extensive endorsements by numerous elected officials and organizations. Badon’s most recent endorsement was from the Alliance For Good Government. He reported $13,571 at the end of the last period. Lombard was most recently endorsed by OPDEC and reported $14,243. 

Badon is a member of the BOLD political organization. Lombard is supported by Congressman Troy Carter and his team. This campaign is the latest rivalry between these two political factions, a story for another day indeed.         

The final race on the October 9th ballot is for State House District 102 which features established realtor Delisha Boyd and newcomer Jordan Bridges. Boyd, also a close ally of Congressman Carter, has received all the major endorsements to date. An artist and advocate, Jordan is a bright new face who could become a next generation servant-leader. Well-known in her Algiers community, Boyd reported $16,476 cash on hand. Bridges is running a grassroots campaign. He did not file a report for the same period.  

Early voting begins in just about 40 days.

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