Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris has the potential to cause Landrieu serious trouble. He is a prominent African American with a 30 year political track record in New Orleans. After serving in the Dutch Morial administration and losing several elections, Bagneris was elected to the Civil District Court in 1993 and since that time he has not faced an electoral challenge.
To win, Bagneris will need the support of at least 60% of the African American vote and 25% of the white vote. This combination is possible, considering the fact that Bagneris has a name popular in the African American community, while Landrieu has never been particularly popular with conservative white voters, who oppose his liberal governing philosophy.
Bagneris will need to raise serious funds to beat an incumbent who has $2 million in the bank and an approval rating of 63 percent. Those who are unhappy with Landrieu do not like his management style, which has been described as divisive and not inclusive. Those who are friends with Mitch have access to City Hall and everyone else is on the outside looking in.
Of course, the most serious issue for New Orleans is high crime rate. While the murder rate may be down, it is still much too high and qualifies New Orleans to be in contention for the horrific title of the nation’s Murder Capital. The crime issue is exacerbated by the problems of the NOPD, which is facing a serious decline in their ranks, as veteran officers leave on a daily basis.
While the Mayor can boast of an influx of new business, robust tourism and a population which is gradually increasing, there continues to be nagging problems such as blight, poor street conditions, broken lights, and missing street signs. To boost revenue, Mayor Landrieu has employed a variety of funding mechanisms from enhanced fees, fines and tickets. For example, Bagneris may want to exploit a tailored-made issue, the red light and speed camera ticket scam. The cameras are revenue enhancing, but have never been approved by the voters.
Politics in New Orleans as elsewhere makes strange bedfellows. It may never be truer than in this mayor’s race. Bagneris may see an influx of funds from the Republican Party as national GOP groups may see his campaign as an opportunity to politically damage the Landrieu family. If Mitch loses, it would be a serious blow to his sister, Democrat U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, who faces re-election in November.
To be elected, Bagneris will need liberal African American voters, along with white conservative voters. It was the same coalition that allowed Ray Nagin to defeat Landrieu in the 2006 mayoral campaign. Unlike Nagin, Bagneris has an outstanding reputation as a man of integrity. If he is elected Mayor, there is little doubt that he will run a clean City Hall, free of corruption.
Bagneris is also likely to be much more competent than Nagin, who faces trial this year on a variety of federal charges related to his reign of corruption on Perdido Street.
Landrieu has the advantage of incumbency, funding and time. Bagneris has to deal with the holidays, the Saints in the playoffs and a very limited campaign schedule with the voters going to the polls on the 1st of February.
With all of these factors, Landrieu is the heavy favorite. It has been decades since an incumbent Mayor of New Orleans lost a re-election campaign.
Nevertheless, unique circumstances give Bagneris a chance to make this election very interesting and very uncomfortable for Mayor Landrieu.
(Image: Ray Nagin)