New Orleans voters came together in unprecedented fashion on Feb. 6, putting aside the perennial issue of race and electing candidates for mayor, council and various parochial offices on the basis of competence and integrity. In the most visible contest, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu scored a historic landslide primary victory by winning a majority of black as well as white votes — something no other mayor in New Orleans history has ever done. Coupled with the New Orleans Saints' inspired Super Bowl victory a day later, the Feb. 6 primary set a new and welcome tone across the local political landscape and continues to feed a citywide euphoria. But, as the mayor-elect reminded us last week, New Orleans has "a very, very long list of chores that need to be done." First on that list, in our view, is finishing the job of electing competent, honest leaders in Saturday's (March 6) runoff elections.
Only two City Council contests remain on the ballot — one in District A and another in District E. Those two districts couldn't be more different, yet they share some important attributes this political season. Both districts will be choosing new council members. District A incumbent Shelley Midura decided not to seek a second term, and term-limited District E incumbent Cynthia Willard-Lewis narrowly lost a bid for an at-large council seat. Both districts have neighborhoods struggling with crime and blight, but those problems are much more severe in District E, which suffered more than any other from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding.
As historic as the Feb. 6 returns were, the citywide turnout that day was significantly lower than it was four years ago — when thousands of New Orleanians were still struggling to get back home. A total of less than 89,000 voters went to the polls on Feb. 6 — 21,000 fewer than in the April 2006 primary. With no citywide contest on the ballot this Saturday, turnout in Council Districts A and E could be less than 10 percent. That's a shame, because the decisions voters make this Saturday will chart New Orleans' future for many years to come.
With an eye toward finishing the job that voters began on Feb. 6 — the job of placing competence and integrity above all else — we offer our recommendations for this Saturday's runoffs. Above all, we urge voters in those districts to take the time to vote this Saturday.
District A: Susan Guidry
We endorsed attorney Susan Guidry in the primary, and we stand by that endorsement. Guidry answered the call to service after the Hurricane Katrina crisis by getting involved and making a difference in her neighborhood. She has served as president of the Parkview Neighborhood Association in the Mid-City area and as a member of the District 5 Planning Committee (which helped write the city's recovery plan). District A includes much of Uptown, Carrollton, Mid-City and Lakeview.
Guidry's opponent, former District A Councilman Jay Batt, is attempting to restart his political career after losing his seat four years ago. While many voters in the district take an "Anybody But Batt" approach to this election, we endorse Guidry because we feel she is the better candidate — not because we dislike Batt. (In fact, four years ago, we endorsed Batt for re-election.) Along with new District C Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, we feel Guidry will bring a fresh approach to the council that can only come from a new face on the political scene.
District E: Austin Badon
State Rep. Austin Badon led a crowded field in the primary, and we happily endorse him again in the runoff. District E includes the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward and almost all of eastern New Orleans. As a state legislator, Badon authored key reform bills to improve public education and to consolidate the seven assessors' offices into one. His experience as a lawmaker proves that he stands tall against political odds on behalf of reform. Equally important, his runoff opponent, former state Sen. Jon Johnson, represents all that voters are attempting to put behind us: a throwback to the tired old ways of Louisiana political deal-making. Badon will be a welcome addition to the council, and we urge voters in District E to elect him this Saturday.