New Orleans — A contentious battle to fill the City Council District E seat will end this week when voters select either veteran legislator Austin Badon or political newcomer James Gray to fill the spot vacated unexpectedly this summer when its former occupant, Jon Johnson, resigned after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges.
Badon came close to an outright win during the Nov. 6 primary but fell short with 47 percent of the vote. Gray secured 30 percent of ballots cast, setting up the Saturday runoff.
The battle for the seat was heated in the lead up to the primary, and personal attacks have continued to be hurled during the weeks since as each candidate makes last-minute pitches for votes.
Badon has continued to attack Gray about his residency, claiming the lawyer doesn’t actually live in the district since he has yet to repair his Katrina-damaged home. Legal challenges to Gray’s candidacy failed in court based on the fact that he remains legally domiciled at his Winchester Park Drive home.
Meanwhile, Gray has slammed Badon for what he says is double dipping when the state representative often clocks time for his job as a community service coordinator at Southern University at New Orleans while out of town on state business. Badon said during a recent interview that the claims are baseless since he still performs his SUNO duties even while out of state.
The two men express a common goal: bettering the district, made up of Desire, the 9th Ward and the majority of eastern New Orleans, even if they disagree on how to make those improvements.
Badon, who has run previously for the council seat, said his nine years as a legislator give him the advantage since he knows how government operates. The district, he said, is at a point where it needs a strong leader, something he said he would be.
If elected, Badon has said, he would create tax and other economic incentives to attract businesses to the area.
While he narrowly missed eking out a victory during the primary, some of his voting base, he said, is under the impression he won. That, he said, has presented a challenge in that he’s had to remind people about the runoff.
Louisiana secretary of state records show 55 percent of registered voters turned out to vote on Nov. 6. That number is expected to be much lower on Saturday since there is no presidential election on the ballot this time.
Still, Badon described his supporters as “chronic voters” and said they will come out for him again now that many realize the second round is at hand.
“You say ‘election,’ and they’re going to vote,” said Badon, who has earned the endorsements of several good-government groups, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former contender Dana Henry and interim District E Councilman Ernest Charbonnet.
Counter to Badon’s claims that veteran lawmakers are good lawmakers, Gray said his status as a political outsider is what District E’s constituents need.
He said his status as a Harvard-educated lawyer and law professor who has been involved in numerous civic organizations makes him the ideal representative.
“I’ve just had a much broader breadth of experiences over time,” Gray said recently. “I would be better suited sitting down at a table negotiating with some corporation about bringing a business here. I’m better suited for sitting down with other council people and making the arguments necessary to do the things that will be helpful for my district.”
Gray said he’s under no illusion that the voter turnout will be anywhere near the level that it was for the primary — noting that some people with whom he’s spoken thought he won — but that he believes momentum is building behind him since Badon, whom he described as “almost like an incumbent,” failed to win the primary.
Gray has some heavy political muscle power in his arsenal, with endorsements from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, former City District E Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.