Has The Frontrunner For The NOLA Mayor’s Race Entered The Field?

Our assessment is probably not, as we think City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell is probably the favorite at the post, but Desiree Charbonnet could well be a comer in the mayor’s race this fall.

Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet has not yet said whether she will run for mayor, but it certainly appears she’s laying the groundwork for a campaign.

Last week, the state Board of Ethics received paperwork from the Desiree Charbonnet for Mayor organization, another procedural step toward running for office.

State law prohibits a judge from running for a non-judicial office, and hours before Charbonnet, 48, officially resigned her seat on the bench, she was coy about her intentions.

“I can’t say I’m making an official announcement. I’m still a judge,” she told reporters April 21. Her resignation was effective that night.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu cannot seek reelection since he is term-limited.

Should Charbonnet formally announce her candidacy, she would join a thin field of mayoral hopefuls including former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and businessman Frank Scurlock, whose might best be known for skywriting over the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Scurlock was the guy on that video getting arrested at the Jefferson Davis monument a week ago, in a clip that looked terrible for the New Orleans Police Department. He might be the candidate we’d support in the race but for the fact he has zero chance of winning. That’s also true of entrepreneur and reality TV star Sidney Torres, who has talked about running off and on for years but similarly has zero chance of winning.

Bagneris ran against Mitch Landrieu four years ago and did poorly. He’s a little on the old side, and his connection with the Morials (Bagneris was Executive Counsel to Dutch Morial in the early 1980’s) appears to be more of a negative than a positive in this day and age, but he’s a self-made man who came out of the Desire housing projects to emerge as a prominent lawyer and judge. He might have some middle-class and law-and-order appeal, though “middle class” and “New Orleans” don’t particularly go together all that well – that’s a city of rich people and poor people, and the middle class people generally live in the suburbs. Still, he’s going to have an organization and some support, and he’ll be a factor in the race.

The other supposed candidate in the race was going to be state representative Walt Leger, but WWL-TV reports he’s dissolved Friends of Walt Leger, which was his mayoral campaign organization. As of right now Leger is out.

And there’s one more possibility – that being state senator J.P. Morrell, who has the family connections (his mother, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, was on the New Orleans City Council for a decade, leaving in 2014, and his father, Arthur Morrell, was a state representative and is currently the Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court) and potential fundraising assets to make a decent run at the job, and the rumor mill has Morrell’s camp making calls to gauge support. Fellow state senator Troy Carter’s name has also come up, but we haven’t run across much evidence that Carter is actually doing anything in preparation for a mayoral campaign.

But if Morrell doesn’t get in soon, Charbonnet could well be the receptacle for the “money” in the race – and if Bagneris should falter it could come down to a Cantrell-Charbonnet runoff between the “people” and the “money.” Historically in New Orleans it’s been the “money” which has won, though it’s fairly rare that the governance of the city has reflected any true friendship of capital formation or business interests.

Cantrell, who was born in California but has lived in New Orleans since 1990, has a reputation as a bit of a demagogue, though she’s a bit more pragmatic than she’s been branded as. What about Charbonnet? Well, until her resignation a couple of weeks ago she was a municipal judge whose efforts at diverting nonviolent criminals away from the cycle of arrest and jail got her a nice writeup at The Atlantic last year, and those efforts are certainly fashionable as sentiment is moving away from the old lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key criminal justice model. Is that a calling card in a city which is beset by shootings and murders as what seems like an hourly occurrence? We’ll see.

Should it come down to a Cantrell-Charbonnet race, the swing voters will largely be whites in Uptown and Lakeview – which could make for a bit different political dynamic than we’ve seen in the past eight years, in which Landrieu has moved as far to the left as he possibly could in order to hold together a coalition of mostly black voters. Neither Cantrell nor Charbonnet would have much of a challenge in that respect.

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