Since incumbent Mayor Mitch Landrieu is term-limited and unable to run again, there are plenty of potential candidates exploring a campaign for this open seat.
The field will surely be large and may include several city council members. District B council member LaToya Cantrell and At-Large member Jason Williams are both seriously considering the race. In addition, State Representative Walt Leger and State Senators Karen Carter Peterson, Troy Carter and J.P. Morrell are all being encouraged by supporters to enter the fray.
Also, considering the race is Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and businessman and reality TV star Sidney Torres.
In the 2014 mayoral race, former Judge Michael Bagneris received 33% of the vote against the incumbent, Mitch Landrieu. In that election, Bagneris was unable to overcome a late entry into the race and being seriously outspent by Landrieu. This time, Bagneris has already loaned his campaign $50,000 to jumpstart his second mayoral try and firmly stated that he is “definitely, unequivocally running.”
The only other candidate to “definitely” enter the race is WGSO 990 AM talk show host Nathan Laurenson who will run as an Independent, while all the other potential candidates are registered Democrats. Laurenson will try to make history in a city that has elected only Democrats as Mayors since Republican Benjamin Flanders finished his mayoral term in 1872, during Reconstruction.
New Orleans is so heavily aligned with the Democrat Party that the city has only one elected Republican, State Representative Stephanie Hilferty, whose legislative district includes significant portions of conservative Jefferson Parish. In the last presidential election, Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won 81% of the vote in New Orleans, while only receiving 38% of the vote statewide and losing in a landslide to Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Whoever is elected Mayor of New Orleans will inherit a position with significant power regarding appointments, budgets and in dealing with the city council. There is also a national media spotlight that always follows the Mayor of New Orleans since the city attracts almost 10 million tourists annually and hosts major conventions, sporting events and celebrations such as Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival.
Unfortunately, the next Mayor will also take charge of a city with serious troubles. Of course, the most pressing problem involves public safety. According to FBI statistics, during the years of 2010-2015, New Orleans was the murder capital of the nation per capita. To make matters worse, the murder rate and the number of overall shootings has risen in the last two years creating undesirable national headlines.
The understaffed New Orleans Police Department is 500 officers below the preferred size. This is the most obvious reason for the spike in murders in the city. Incredibly, Mayor Landrieu did not fund police recruiting classes during the first four years of his administration, creating a manpower crisis. While there are now recruiting classes in place, the shortfall in officers will take many years to overcome.
The next Mayor will also face the usual litany of financial woes. Despite increased fees, taxes, parking tickets and new red light and speed cameras, the city of New Orleans is always struggling for funds. For example, the District Attorney’s budget was recently cut $600,000, which put the office in a tremendous bind as it tries to keep investigations on pace with the increased murder rate.
Some problems have not changed in New Orleans in decades. The city has horrible street conditions, a serious homeless problem, and a high African American unemployment rate, thousands of blighted properties, a sizeable poverty rate and significant infrastructure woes.
There are bright spots such as a hot real estate market, a booming tourism industry, a developing healthcare industry and the emergence of more high tech jobs. Still, the next Mayor will have difficulties in trying to resurrect the film and video industry which largely abandoned the city after the state tax credits were severely reduced. The old standby industries of the port and oil and gas are still a major economic factor, but there are challenges of increased competition and low energy prices which are impeding growth.
One problem that will likely not bedevil the next Mayor of New Orleans is the status of the city’s four Confederate monuments. After favorable court rulings in recent weeks dismissing lawsuits from preservationists, the Landrieu administration started accepting bids from companies to remove the monuments. The plan calls for the monuments to be removed by May 19, giving the new Mayor the challenge of what to do with the old monuments and what to place in the newly vacant monument positions, situated in high profile locations.
The new Mayor will also take office during an especially momentous time in the history of New Orleans. In 2018, New Orleans will celebrate its tri-centennial, an impressive milestone for a city with a unique and colorful past.
The challenge for the next Mayor will be to offer fresh thinking and creative solutions to tackle the city’s historic problems and provide results that will give the citizens of New Orleans the hope of a brighter future.