New Orleans voters head to polls Saturday. Here’s what’s on the ballot.
By Ben Myers
December 11, 2021
New Orleans voters will head to the polls on Saturday with four City Council seats at stake along with a hotly contested race for Orleans Parish sheriff.
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In addition to the district runoff elections that will shape the City Council, the Sheriff’s Office and the Criminal District Clerk of Court for the next four years, residents will decide if they want to continue paying property taxes to support the New Orleans Public Library and for housing programs.
The vote will conclude a longer-than-usual fall campaign after primary and general election dates were pushed back a month due to Hurricane Ida.
The primary election on Nov. 13 settled a heated race for the 2nd Division at-large seat on the council, with JP Morrell winning. Voters also delivered victories for Mayor LaToya Cantrell, council member-at-large Helena Moreno and District A member Joe Giarrusso.
Three incumbents — Sheriff Marlin Gusman, District B council member Jay Banks and District E member Cyndi Nguyen — were forced into runoffs after failing to win a majority of the primary vote. A combined 21 candidates stepped up to run in the primaries for council districts C and D, where there were no incumbents.
Longtime Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell’s retirement opened the door for the clerks of the city’s two small-claims courts to run against each another in a close primary race that did not yield an absolute majority.
Here’s a look at what’s on Saturday’s ballot:
Gusman is facing Susan Hutson, the former independent police monitor, in a referendum on Gusman’s record managing the Orleans Parish jail, as well as his goal of building a new, separate lockup for special needs inmates. A federal consent decree requires separation of these inmates from the general population, and a judge backs Gusman’s plans.
But Hutson, a reformer backed by progressive groups, says Gusman is needlessly trying to expand the jail footprint. She often says the main jail is only about 60% full. She also notes that Gusman was stripped of control of the jail for four years due to slow progress on the federal reform plan, with monitors complaining about high rates of violence.
Gusman, who has held the office since 2004, narrowly missed a primary win with 48% of the vote, while Hutson took 35%. The runoff campaign quickly turned nasty, with Gusman accusing Hutson of being part of “a network of radical extremists who have invaded our city.” Gusman also says Hutson is too inexperienced to run the large agency, noting that she has never run a jail or managed more than a dozen people.
One week before the primary, a dubious mailer of unknown origin attacked Hutson for being single and having no children. Gusman claimed the mailer was a false flag conceived by his opponents to make him look bad.
City Council District B
Banks is squaring off against political newcomer Lesli Harris, a lawyer and former Loyola University chief of staff. Primary results suggest a close runoff: Banks led a five-candidate field with 45% of the vote, while Harris took 37%.
The winner will come from a district covering Uptown, the Garden District, Central City and downtown.
The race was contentious from the start, with Harris telling voters that her frustration with Banks’s leadership was one of her main reasons for running. The competing attacks took a bizarre turn this week when the Banks campaign accused Harris of faking a casserole recipe. Harris said Banks’s claim was made up.
Banks is endorsed by Cantrell and Gov. John Bel Edwards, along with seven of the nine-member Louisiana House delegation from Orleans Parish. Harris has the backing of U.S. Rep. Troy Carter and District Attorney Jason Williams.
City Council District C
Two Algiers-based lawyers with City Hall experience are vying to be the next representative for District C, which includes Algiers, the French Quarter and some downriver east bank neighborhoods on the river side of Claiborne Avenue.
Freddie King, who once served as the district’s constituent services director under former council member Nadine Ramsey, led the seven-candidate primary with 44% of the vote. Stephanie Bridges, who worked as an assistant city attorney from 2008 to 2012, finished second with 16%. King is the only runoff candidate to secure runoff endorsements from Edwards, Cantrell, Carter and Williams. Bridges is supported by the other former primary contenders.
City Council District D
The District D runoff is a generational matchup, with political veteran Eugene Green facing newcomer Troy Glover. Green touts previous leadership roles at City Hall and as a congressional chief of staff, warning that 2021 is no time for “experimentation.” Glover, a nonprofit director and neighborhood activist, urges voters to “reimagine what is possible.”
The winner will come from a vast district stretching from Lake Pontchartrain to Claiborne Avenue between City Park and the Industrial Canal, along with the Downman Road corridor in New Orleans East.
Primary results in the 14-candidate field did not leave much for readers of tea leaves. Green, the most recognizable name, led with 35%. Glover was the only other candidate to finish in double digits, with 12%.
Green is endorsed by the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, along with a variety of civic and community organizations. Glover, after garnering support from several former primary foes, also scored endorsements from Cantrell and Williams.
City Council District E
District E Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen is facing a comeback bid from former council member Oliver Thomas.
No matter the runoff result, Thomas’s first-place primary finish with 45% of the vote showed he has won back the trust of many New Orleanians more than a decade after pleading guilty in 2007 to a federal bribery charge. Still, Nguyen finished a close second with 41% in the six-candidate field
Elected officials have steered clear of endorsements in this race, which will determine the winner for a district that covers New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward.
Clerk of Criminal District Court
The clerks of the city’s two small-claims courts are vying to succeed Morrell, who is retiring after 15 years. They are Austin Badon of the east bank-based 1st City Court and Darren Lombard of the 2nd City Court in Algiers.
Badon led the primary with 43% of the vote, while Lombard edged a third contender with 30%. The other candidate, Patricia Boyd-Robertson, finished with 27% and is endorsing Badon, who also has support from the Alliance for Good Government, Black Organization for Leadership Development and other civic and political groups.
Lombard is supported by Troy Carter and Morrell.
Library, housing taxes
Also on the ballot are two property tax extensions that pay for the New Orleans Public Library system and housing initiatives. Both renewals are for 20 years.
The library proposition would allow a 4-mill levy amounting to about $17 million annually, but library officials are recommending that it continue at the same current rate of 2.58 mills, which generates about $11 million annually, or about half the library’s budget. The Bureau of Governmental Research, a non-partisan policy research organization, has come out in support of the renewal.
The 0.91-mill housing tax pays for a variety of housing-related programs, such as down payment assistance, hurricane-related insurance deductibles and affordable housing development. It generates about $4 million, which housing advocates say is a critical revenue stream, especially during the pandemic. BGR says the Cantrell administration has done a poor job accounting for how the proceeds will be spent and opposes renewal.
Matt Sledge and Jessica Williams contributed to this report
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