At any given time of the day, it’s both the best elected job in Louisiana and the worst. One moment you’re leading a second line in a city that long ago captured the imagination of the world and the next you’re trying to explain to said world why people keep getting shot on Bourbon Street.
But there’s no denying that New Orleans’ mayoral post — just the municipal-level seat — is a jewel of Southern politics. Through economic booms, natural disasters and all the problems of a major American city, mayors there often become change agents whether they like it or not.
The seat is an important one to Democrats. On more than one occasion the national apparatus has leaned on Mayor Mitch Landrieu to help raise money and work crowds.
Simply put, it comes with a bit of celebrity. That’s why the Oct. 14 mayoral primary will be highly competitive. And probably rather colorful.
If you enjoyed seeing a reality television star who’s also successful at business running for president, then New Orleans garbage executive Sydney Torres IV has a storyline you’ll enjoy following. CNBC has reportedly bankrolled 50 billboards going up in the city to promote its new show “The Deed,” which features Torres as a sort of fixer for property investors. Torres has told reporters that he’s thinking about running for mayor, but hasn't yet made a firm decision.
Several other politicos are also dancing around the seat without actually announcing, and billboards are definitely the preferred method of communication at this early stage of the race.
A single billboard, for example, was recently placed along Interstate 10 bearing the first name of New Orleans Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and nothing else. Cantrell’s boosters insist they have no idea who paid for the billboard. But given the amount of local news coverage the stunt created, it was likely a steal.
If the backstory of colleague versus colleague catches your interest, Councilman at-large Jason Williams, is considering the race as well. If both run, that could make for some interesting Council meetings in the future.
If you’re looking for a statewide political hook, look no further than Attorney General Jeff Landry, whose department is increasing its presence in New Orleans and targeting violent crimes. This comes as Mayor Landrieu is rolling out his own plan for public safety. No one wants to call it a turf war, but that’s the narrative emerging from the press nonetheless.
Whatever it is, a campaign issue it shall become sooner or later.
Pulling the developing race a little closer to the heart of state government in Baton Rouge, a handful of legislators are eyeing the possibility of becoming candidates.
Politicos say House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger has begun aggressively laying a foundation for the mayoral job. Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Chair J.P. Morrell has expressed interest in the race, too, and so has Sen. Troy Carter.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, is another source of speculation. But she has another race to run first that could potentially factor into her future plans. When the Democratic National Committee meets in Atlanta in late February, Peterson will be a candidate for a vice chairmanship.
With at least four legislators toying with the idea, that means there may not be many outright movements from this corner of the race until after June 8, which is when the regular legislative session adjourns. Hopefully we’ll know more about this contest by then, especially with the qualifying process slated for July.
But before we look too far ahead, let’s take a quick look back. Historically, an open race for mayor in New Orleans favors youth. That probably doesn't bode well for long-timers like Michael Bagneris, a former judge and one-time candidate for mayor who appears to be running again.
Additionally, no sitting mayor in recent times has endorsed his successor. That’s one of the many reasons why locals watching the election closely expect Landrieu, who is term-limited, to play a muted role.
So if you like a good political yarn, especially one crafted against the backdrop of Louisiana, the mayor’s race in New Orleans deserves your attention this year. Just because you can’t vote in it doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun following along, which is, after all, a very New Orleans way to view the entire matter.