BAYHAM: Reviewing The 2017 Louisiana Runoffs And The Political Winners And Losers

This wasn’t supposed to be that interesting of a political year in Louisiana, with the year after a presidential election being the one in the state’s four year election cycle that is quiet.

However, John Kennedy’s resignation as state treasurer to take a seat in the US Senate set off a chain reaction that led to a special election being called for his office, which led to another vacancy when then-state representative John Schroder borrowed a page out of David Vitter’s playbook by resigning his legislative seat in advance of the treasurer’s election in order to fully commit to that campaign and perhaps to nudge turnout in his Northshore bailiwick.

On the southshore, the New Orleans city elections were moved back from the heart of Mardi Gras season to the preceding October and November to stimulate greater participation by the voters.  It did not work.

New Orleans New True Progressive Mayor

While sitting “stay woke” Mayor Mitch Landrieu assumed the political identity of a “progressive” towards the tail end of his term, the voters elected someone with a bit more cred and sincerity in this area with Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s landslide win.  While all of the Crescent City’s mayors have been Democrats since Reconstruction, Cantrell is a committed leftist.

Cantrell appeared and spoke at the groundbreaking for the Planned Parenthood abortion center in Central City, she’s a champion for “affordable housing,” and she led the fight to ban smoking in bars.  Cantrell is not just a loyal Democrat but a committed progressive and residents of New Orleans should expect to see their new mayor pushing her party’s national agenda locally.  Whether Cantrell follows in her predecessor’s footsteps and allows national politics to distract from pressing local quality-of-life matters remains to be seen.

The Desiree Disaster

Going into the race, ex-judge Desiree Charbonnet was considered the heavy favorite with the question being whether she would win in the primary or the runoff.  Instead Charbonnet experienced a political collapse along the lines of her friend Paulette Irons’ own mayoral bid in 2002.

Charbonnet was a moderate in philosophy and temperament, the ideal compromise candidate in a city that has experienced far too much political agita.  Instead a genuine reformer saw her candidacy swamped by attacks from businessman Sidney Torres IV and the campaign of former judge Michael Bagneris, the latter drawing support from the area’s conservative element.

By the time Charbonnet’s camp appreciated the severe toll of the attacks it was too late, having been defined as a machine candidate by her opponents and Super PAC’s.  Unwilling to make dynamic moves, Charbonnet made the fatal mistake in believing they possessed a magic bullet on Cantrell – the councilwoman’s use of a city credit card for questionable expenses.

After a bad media week for Cantrell, the matter blew over leaving Charbonnet one last card to play- a last second endorsement by Republican Congressman Steve Scalise, something that was needed to deflect support from Bagneris in the primary.  It was as if Cantrell was running a 21st century campaign while Charbonnet was waging an effort that might have worked before the death of disco.

IV Wins?

Torres, who explored his own candidacy, could be considered a winner.  After flubbing his non-campaign announcement, the celebrity entrepreneur got his pound of flesh out of Charbonnet, unleashing withering attacks that crippled her candidacy.  Shrewdly holding his fire in the runoff, as the damage had already been inflicted, Torres has the advantage of beating one candidate without necessarily having to claim ownership of the other’s victory in the event he were to entertain an actual campaign four years from now.

Another Win for the Monuments Men

Though one of the council members who backed Landrieu’s removal of the Confederate monuments was elected mayor, a second councilman who voted to back the move was turned out as District E incumbent James Gray was defeated by Vietnamese community activist Cyndi Nguyen.  Nguyen becomes the first Asian ever elected to the city council and her victory was an indication that the voters of the majority black eastern New Orleans area were more concerned about having an able advocate in city government than a representative of a particular ethnic group.  District C council member Nadine Ramsey, who also voted to back Landrieu’s monument removal scheme, was narrowly defeated in the primary.

All Politics is Local on the Northshore

Two-time US Senate candidate Rob Maness was unsuccessful in his bid for a seat in the state legislature, losing to Covington councilman Mark Wright.  While declaring “the swamp won” at his election night campaign event and having been targeted by Super PAC’s, including one connected to one of his senate opponents, the deciding factor was the support Wright received from the other two candidates who did not advance to the runoff.  Maness needed to grow his strong primary showing and tried to nationalize what was essentially a local election while the electorate that bothered to show up voted local.

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