The April 4 special elections likely will produce the only real campaign action of the year in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. New Orleans will see three races for judge and one for a legislative seat. The ballot will be longer in much of Jefferson, where Gretna and Westwego are having regular municipal elections and other parts of the parish will be electing a parish council member, an appellate judge and a school board member.
A quarter-penny sales tax proposition also will be on the ballot across Jefferson.
The Orleans legislative race is for the old House seat of new state Sen. J.P. Morrell, who formerly represented House District 97. Other races in the city include a contest for Traffic Court, to replace Judge Paul Bonin, who was elected to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal; a race at Municipal Court, to replace the retiring Judge John Shea, who officially steps down May 9; and an election for judge of Juvenile Court, to replace the retired Judge C. Hearn Taylor. At least one candidate has announced for each of those positions thus far.
Qualifying is set for Feb. 11-13 in all contested elections in both Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
In Gretna, the council elections could be on hold pending U.S. Department of Justice approval of new council districts. New district lines had to be drawn when the city annexed Timberline. Even if the approval does not come in time for the elections, its possible the council races could proceed in anticipation of DOJ approval (required under the Voting Rights Act). On other fronts, Gretnas citywide elections for mayor, at-large council member and police chief will proceed as planned.
Westwego also will hold all of its regular city elections for mayor, council, etc.
The special elections in Jefferson include one for the parish council from District 5 to replace former Councilwoman Jennifer Sneed, who resigned to spend more time with her family. That district includes Old Metairie and Bucktown. Several candidates have already started jockeying for position in that contest, and it is expected to be heated. Among those said to be considering the race are Cynthia Lee Sheng, the daughter of the late Sheriff Harry Lee, and state Sen. Julie Quinn.
There also will be a special election in Jefferson School Board District 4 to replace Ellen Kovach, who was elected judge in November. The district includes Old Metairie and Bucktown.
The only judicial election in Jefferson will be a special election to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal to replace Justice Greg Guidry, who won election to the Louisiana Supreme Court in November. The contest to replace Guidry will be held in a new, majority-black sub-district that includes only 22 precincts. Ironically, that district was created via legislation authored by disgraced former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, an attorney who reportedly wanted to run for the appellate court himself. Instead, Shepherd will be going to federal jail after pleading guilty in a money-laundering scheme that reportedly involves former Congressman Bill Jefferson. The real irony here is that a leading candidate for the seat now is Judge June Berry Darensburg, a political adversary of Shepherd. Also said to be looking at the race is Kenner Councilman Mark Johnson.
Parishwide, the hot-button issue will be a quarter-penny sales tax that will be dedicated mostly to public safety. With crime starting to spiral in part of Jefferson, the timing may be right to ask voters for help with safety issues. Then again, the time is never really good for raising taxes, particularly in the throes of a worldwide recession. The push for the sales tax came not from public officials but from the private sector a core of business leaders and former parish President Tim Coulon. If voters approve the proposition, the sales tax in Jefferson would rise from 8.75 percent to 9 percent the same as in New Orleans.