Jason Williams claimed victory tonight in the March 15 runoff election for the New Orleans City Council At-Large Division 2 seat, edging out longtime councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Williams will be one of three freshmen members of the council following Nadine Ramsey's victory in District C against another longtime councilmember, Jackie Clarkson. Hedge-Morrell and Clarkson both received endorsements from Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Williams entered the building to Pharrell Williams' "Happy." Nearly 70 percent of votes went to Williams, who took to the podium for his victory speech thanking his family, campaign staff and volunteers. He said he was humbled by the turnout and voters. "The percentage by which we won, I'm humbled by it," he said.
"Everybody was working on this campaign. Everybody helped craft the vision," he said. "Public service against the machine. We broke the machine tonight."
"The first thing I'm going to do is meet with every district council member and find out what their most pressing needs are," he told Gambit. "Then I'm going to spend time in that district to see what we can do about moving that agenda forward." He added that he'll help build one-year and four-year plans for each district.
Williams's election night party at Magnolia Mansion on Prytania Street was packed with supporters and a few celebrities, including rapper Lil Boosie, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and World Champion boxer Evander Holyfield, who campaigned with Williams today during the St. Patrick's Day parade.
"I'm here to celebrate a victory, hopefully he'll get it and good things are coming," Holyfield told Gambit.
Ryan returned Uptown for the party after participating in today's St. Patrick's Day parade. ("We had a blast. ... I think I only had two beers the whole parade," he told Gambit. "I think I had a Coors Light and a Miller Lite. That's a whole lot of walking. I couldn't get to them.")
"We got down here, it's our first chance to come and see him," Ryan said, adding that he and his wife Kristin were invited by the Williams camp. "We thought we'd come."
Williams — a criminal defense attorney who serves on several local boards including the Innocence Project and Partnership for Youth Development — also ran for district attorney in 2008. His City Council campaign included big pushes for economic development and strengthening criminal justice.
Hedge-Morrell — who has served as the District D councilmember since 2005 — faced Williams and Ernest "Freddie" Charbonnet in the Feb. 1 race. Charbonnet was knocked out taking 17 percent of the vote, while Hedge-Morrell, who received 44 percent of the vote, headed into a run off with Williams, who trailed slightly with 39 percent. In late February, Charbonnet announced his support for Hedge-Morrell.
The incoming City Council has Williams in the At-Large Division 2 seat and Stacy Head in the Division 1, with incumbents Susan Guidry in District A, LaToya Cantrell in District B and James Gray in District E. New blood comes from Jared Brossett in District D and tonight's other council winner, Nadine Ramsey for District C.