By Emily Ahmad
In a year full of political tension and transformation on a national scale, the city of New Orleans will experience its own political shakeup. Come this fall, residents of New Orleans will vote for a new mayor of their city, as current Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s term comes to an end. Landrieu, who is finishing out his second term after being initially elected in 2010, has overseen great periods of change for the city. The Landrieu administration points to improving education through the spread of charter schools, restoring the city’s infrastructure following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, and solidifying its worth among new businesses and college graduates as positive progress in the city during their time in office. While the Democrat has received widespread appraisal for his work in the past seven years, there is still much to be done.
New Orleans remains one of the highest crime ridden cities, experiencing 175 murders in the year 2016 alone. Additionally, poverty, homelessness, and blight originating from Katrina continue to main major areas of concern for the city. When asked about the key issues that would define this race, political analyst Drew Prestridge cited, “(E)xpanding job opportunities for young professionals and graduates, city safety and crime, infrastructure and repair of roads and buildings, tourism and concerns with AirBnB in areas like the French Quarter, and the effects of the city’s recent decision to remove three confederate monuments.”
Although there has been much speculation regarding the mayoral candidates, only one has officially declared his intention to run. Former District Judge Michael Bagneris will rekindle his hopes at being mayor after a failed run against Mitch Landrieu in 2013. After having graduated from Tulane Law School, Bagneris served on the Civil District Court bench beginning in 1993, and currently practices as an attorney.
Perhaps one of the most popular contenders is Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell. Cantrell, who would become the city’s first female mayor if elected, has proved her power to transform the community during her stint in the city council beginning in 2012. Through measures such as the Smoke-Free Ordinance, various actions to protect homeowner rights, and extensive efforts to create education reform, 44-year-old Cantrell has embarked on many different ventures to improve the community throughout her political career.
In late March, when probed with questions regarding Cantrell’s participation in the election, her head of media relations, David Winkler-Schmit said, “At this point in time, Councilwoman Cantrell has not formally declared any intention to run for mayor. Her focus at this time remains doing what is best for the community of New Orleans, and focusing at the tasks currently at hand.” However, on March 31, the Councilwoman’s official website relayed a message formally declaring her intent to run, making her the second official candidate on the ballot.
Despite this announcement, Cantrell’s team has stayed relatively out of the limelight, and did not wish to be further questioned on the matter. Cantrell’s decision to announce her candidacy early gives her sufficient time to raise funds for her campaign, and perhaps she is trying to avoid “stirring up the pot” by laying low.
Also among the prospective contenders for the position are Senators Troy Carter and JP Morrell. At age 53, Carter has more experience compared to his 38-year-old colleague, having served in the New Orleans City Council, House of Representatives, and as of 2016, the United States Senate. When asked about his areas of focus, a representative for Carter pointed out the Senator’s strong sense of community and family values. One of his current ventures, “A Prom to Remember” is an event geared towards “helping disadvantaged high school girls find a prom dress they will always remember,” said a representative. However, native New Orleanian Morrell has also served in both the House and the Senate. His team cites crime, the community, and the environment as main areas of concern for the Senator, but were unwilling to comment on his possibility of running for mayor.
Another name that is widely speculated about is Speaker pro tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives, Walt Leger III. Leger began his career as Assistant District Attorney after having graduated from Tulane Law School in 2003, but quickly shifted his focus to the political world upon being elected state representative for Louisiana House District 91 in 2007. Despite speculation that he will run, he declined to respond to any questions regarding the matter.
One of the most publicized possibilities for the next mayor of New Orleans is entrepreneur and real estate mogul, Sidney Torres IV. In addition to his extensive real estate empire, Torres has capitalized on his self-made image as a born and raised New Orleanian by conducting various projects that have helped the city, especially after Hurricane Katrina.
According to his website, Torres founded the FQ Task Force, an app that is “revolutionizing policing and most importantly reducing crime.” He has also established his own venture capital firm, IV Capital, that seeks to help new entrepreneurs pave their way through the business world. Although he has certainly proven himself as a businessman, there is still much skepticism as to how he would navigate a traditional political role.
“He’s a character and he’s certainly fun to watch, but I have no idea how he would approach a mayoral campaign,” said Prestridge. “I’m sure he would continue to focus on improving crime in the French Quarter as he’s done in recent years.” However, it seems that it would be unlikely that Torres would have a solid plan for tackling the crimes of less fortunate areas of the city, such as New Orleans East. The fact that his millionaire lifestyle is widely known may be an obstacle for him to overcome, as it distances him from the often forgotten people and places in the city who are living in poverty and poor conditions.
While the media has fueled speculation of many possible candidates, “we will not concretely know what the ballot will look like until the qualifying period, which is in mid-July,” said Prestridge. “Senators and Representatives will want to show their commitment to the work they have in office now, but it will be fun to see how the field shifts until then,” he said. Due to this lack of certainty, there are no clear favorites to win the position, but a look at New Orleans voting patterns may give some indication as to how the race might be decided.
Perhaps one of New Orleans’ defining characteristics is its fortified sense of community, dating back many generations. Mayoral hopefuls need to have proven their dedication to New Orleans and its people, not just in recent years, but throughout their lives, as many residents and their families have lived in the city for decades. “The people who live here love it here, they just want to see the city do better,” said Prestridge. “If someone can demonstrate their ability to be the person who improves how the city runs, they’ll rise to the top”.
While a candidate must appeal to all voters, African American voters will prove the deciding demographic, as they make up the largest contingent in the city. According to research conducted by The Data Center, New Orleans is 58% African American, 31% white, 6% Hispanic, and 3% Asian. African Americans tend to live in areas such as Gentilly and New Orleans East, while the wealthier neighborhoods tend to be more caucasian. This suggests that while African Americans’ votes will matter in sheer numbers, candidates must also appeal to white voters in order to get more money to fund their campaigns. The gender divide in New Orleans is fairly equal, with the city being 48% male and 52% female, according to the US Census. This slight female edge may give Cantrell an advantage however, as female voters may be more inclined to vote for her in order to see the first female mayor of the city.
Additionally, “a good candidate is someone who can unite the city,” said Prestridge. “Unity is so important right now, especially with everything going on with Trump and our national politics. There are so many wonderful diverse groups in this city, but they all share a lot more in common than meets the eye.”
While there is still a long ways to go in the race for mayor, we can expect more candidates to come forward within the next few months. Many possible prospects have been put forward as plausible candidates, but we can only look to Cantrell and Bagneris as sure bets to be on the ballot in the fall. As we wait to see who will officially announce their intent to run, attention to fundraising can give some indication as to what may happen. According to a report done by The New Orleans Advocate, Cantrell has raised over $183,000 this year, and Bagneris has a total of $86,000 towards his campaign. These numbers show Cantrell’s steady ability to raise money among her supporters, and suggests that she may get the boost she needs to solidify her lead. As more contenders come forward and announce their intent to run, it will certainly be interesting to see who can match what Cantrell’s early lead has already allowed her to do. There is still much to be decided in this very early race, so we can only sit back and enjoy what is sure to be a truly entertaining ride.
*Editor’s Note: Certain quotes have been corrected in order to ensure the integrity of statements.