A new survey by respected pollster Verne Kennedy, taken for a group of local business leaders, shows Bagneris in the lead for the first time in the race. In his first poll, conducted in July, Bagneris was a solid third. In the second Kennedy poll, which surveyed New Orleans voters several weeks later, there was a three way tie between Bagneris and his two major opponents, former Judge Desiree Charbonnet and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell. However, in the last poll, which was concluded September 20th, Bagneris led with 33% support, followed by Charbonnet at 30% support and Cantrell at 23% support.
There are several reasons for this development. Bagneris was the first candidate on the television airwaves. He also received the support of business leader Frank Stewart who paid for advertisements on his behalf. In the meantime, Charbonnet has been the target of repeated political attacks from an outside political organization, www.NotforSaleNola.com, which has sent mailers to registered voters throughout the parish.
It also helps Bagneris that the major white candidate, businessman Frank Scurlock, has been embroiled in controversy. Not only was Scurlock arrested next to a Confederate monument site in New Orleans, but it was also just revealed that he was arrested in Santa Monica, CA earlier in the year for lewd behavior. While Scurlock claims he will fight the charges and stay in the race, his campaign is over, for all practical purposes.
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While Scurlock was never going to win the race, he still could have attracted thousands of votes which may now move to Bagneris, who is trying to build a coalition of African American and white voters who are concerned about crime and corruption at City Hall. In recent months, Bagneris has been the most forceful candidate in attacking the Landrieu administration for its bungling of the Sewerage and Water Board crisis among other issues.
For voters looking to fight corruption and cronyism, it will be easier to support a candidate who is not connected to the current city government. Cantrell has been a member of the City Council and supported much of what the Landrieu administration was advocating. She cannot claim to be an outsider like Bagneris or Charbonnet; however, political insiders are reporting that Mayor Mitch Landrieu is already helping Charbonnet behind the scenes. She is also going to be endorsed by Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans) and has the strong support of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. In a surprising development, Judge Charbonnet also picked up the endorsement of the Orleans Republican Parish Executive Committee.
While these endorsements help, it is not a positive development to have powerful enemies. After missing the Voice Pac debate on Wednesday night, Charbonnet was not only ridiculed by her opponents, but she also earned the ire of businessman Sidney Torres, who may spend $200,000 in attack ads against her. Charbonnet claims that she exited the debate because some panelists backed out for “ethical concerns.” It remains to be seen whether voters will view the decision as a courageous stand or a decision by a candidate trying to avoid tough questions.
In a city that is beset with violent crime, flooding and street problems and a host of other maladies, it seems that the candidate offering the most change, not a continuation of the current administration, will have the strongest chance to win. Cantrell is a current member of the council and Charbonnet has the support of many of the top politicians in New Orleans, so both candidates might have trouble attracting the support of voters demanding change. If Bagneris can convince voters that he is the true change agent with good ideas on turning around a troubled city, he has a very good chance to become the next Mayor of New Orleans.