Mayor shows hand in some, but not all, City Council races on eve of qualifying

Most incumbents get Landrieu’s support

Mayor Mitch Landrieu tipped his hand on City Council elections Tuesday, standing alongside Jackie Clarkson on the Algiers levee as she announced another run for her old District C seat and telling reporters he would support most — but not necessarily all — of the council’s incumbents.

Significantly, Landrieu said he again will endorse James Gray in District E, despite having backed Gray’s highest-profile competitor, former Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, in the past. Willard-Lewis announced her candidacy Tuesday.

And even though Landrieu supported her opponent in last year’s special election, he said he will endorse LaToya Cantrell in District B, along with Susan Guidry in District A. So far, neither incumbent has attracted any well-known challengers, though competition will only be ruled out when the three-day qualifying period ends Friday.

Landrieu said he has not made any decisions about the two at-large races. That’s perhaps unsurprising in the case of Stacy Head, who is looking for a second term and hasn’t always been on the same page as the mayor. But Landrieu also stopped short of endorsing anyone in the second at-large race, where District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell is competing with a handful of other candidates. It’s a decision that may suggest a more strained relationship than has been obvious in public.

Explaining why he helped recruit Clarkson to run again, Landrieu said, “Experience and unity and all of those things that are known with Jackie are things that are going to help the city be successful.” And he called Gray “part of a team that has produced better results than we’ve seen in a long period of time.”

But asked about Hedge-Morrell, the closest thing to an incumbent in the second at-large race, the mayor emphasized that continuity isn’t everything. He said, “I always look for unity, I always look for consensus-building, I always look for someone who’s easy to work with. Continuity isn’t an end in itself.”

If the relationship between Landrieu and Hedge-Morrell has cooled, it doesn’t seem to have gotten icy. For instance, the mayor didn’t say he would endorse either of Hedge-Morrell’s announced opponents: Ernest “Freddie” Charbonnet, who represented District E on an interim basis after Jon Johnson resigned, and defense attorney Jason Williams.

Also, Clarkson, as close an ally as Landrieu has on the council, already has said she will back Hedge-Morrell, and the mayor has endorsed a former Hedge-Morrell aide, state Rep. Jared Brossett, to replace her in District D.

Clarkson’s decision to run, meanwhile, sets up what looks so far like a two-way contest with Nadine Ramsey, a former Civil District Court judge who announced her campaign weeks ago and has started holding fundraisers.

Standing next to the ferry terminal that helps link the two halves of District C across the Mississippi River, Clarkson echoed the mayor’s usual themes about New Orleans making a comeback and promised more progress on issues such as crime and street repairs.

She was joined by both the mayor and sitting Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, whose eleventh-hour decision not to run for re-election in District C created a vacuum that Landrieu was obviously eager to fill with a staunch ally.

When Palmer last week suddenly announced her exit, Clarkson, 78, said she didn’t plan to run for the seat. “I’ve served my time,” she told reporters.

But on Tuesday, Clarkson said she reconsidered over the weekend after asking her husband, Buzz, whether he’d agree to another campaign. “He said, ‘If the mayor wants you and the city needs you, I would never stand in your way,’ ” Clarkson said.

Willard-Lewis, another familiar face making a late entry into the council race, opened her campaign on Tuesday with a broadside against Gray, who won the District E seat last year in a special election to replace Jon Johnson after Johnson pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Willard-Lewis endorsed him in that race.

In a prepared statement, she said, “New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward should not be the forgotten city within the city.” She added, “I had high hopes for our councilman, but I know we must make a change and we can do better.”

Willard-Lewis, 60, is one of the few high-profile candidates to jump in against an incumbent this election season. She served as a state representative from 1993 until 2000, when she won a special election and then two full terms in the District E seat.

Her decision to try to take the seat back will make the District E race one of the more closely watched, along with the at-large races and Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s showdown with his predecessor, Charles Foti.

Other city elections, crammed as they are between the holidays and the Super Bowl, are likely to have a particularly low profile this year. Assessor Erroll Williams hasn’t attracted any opponents.

And it still was not clear on the eve of qualifying who might run for coroner. Frank Minyard has held the office for almost four decades, but his chief investigator, John Gagliano, said the 84-year-old would hold off on announcing his intentions until Wednesday.

For years, Minyard has been saying that each re-election would be his last, only to run again, and recently he has talked about wanting to remain at the helm to see the completion of a new building for the Coroner’s Office on Earhart Boulevard. He’s been operating out of an old funeral home since shortly after Hurricane Katrina.