Before Saturday’s election, there was speculation many voters, unhappy with both candidates for Orleans Parish sheriff, might simply pass up voting in that contest. If so, most of them did it by skipping the entire election.
A total of 60,064 voters cast ballots for sheriff, only about 300 fewer than voted for coroner and 600 fewer than voted for a candidate for the at-large City Council seat up for grabs.
Of course, it was a bit surprising that more voters cast ballots for the relatively obscure office of coroner than for sheriff, the contest that generated the most pre-election controversy and most TV ads.
Turnout for the three races amounted to 24.6 percent for sheriff, 24.7 percent for coroner and 24.8 percent for the council, of the city’s total of about 244,000 registered voters.
In council District C, the only district race on the ballot, turnout was somewhat higher, 28.6 percent.
A few thousand voters opted not to register their opinion on the Audubon Commission millage proposal, which drew just 56,666 ballots, almost two-thirds of them opposed.
Now, who will lead the new City Council?
The City Council that will begin sitting in May will have three new faces, those of Jason Williams in an at-large seat, Nadine Ramsey in District C and Jared Brossett in District D, though Brossett will hardly be a new face in the council chamber. He was a former top aide to Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and has often dropped by council meetings since being elected to the Legislature.
The member with the most seniority will be eight-year veteran Stacy Head, who is likely to be elected council president for 2014-15. Normally, the council’s president and senior member might be expected to play a leadership role, but Head has often had difficulty getting other members to follow her lead on controversial issues. In fact, it has been some years since the council has had an obvious leader at all, in the sense that, for example, former Councilman Jim Singleton once was.
Members tend to make up their own minds on big issues, and a premium is often placed on working things out behind the scenes before those issues ever get to public debates or votes.
It’s unclear who might emerge as Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s most reliable backers. He was counting on Councilwomen Hedge-Morrell and Jackie Clarkson to get elected from new posts, but both lost badly. Landrieu’s relations with Head are strained, at best, and he has opposed three of the other members — LaToya Cantrell, Ramsey and Williams — in their only council campaigns, though that is no guarantee they won’t be administration supporters, at least most of the time.
The departures of Clarkson and Hedge-Morrell will leave vacancies in the chairmanships of two of the council’s most important committees, Budget and Utility. Head will probably take over one and Susan Guidry, after four years the council’s second most senior member, may be in line for the other, but Guidry may want to stick with leading the Criminal Justice Committee, whose work has become increasingly important and attention-grabbing in recent years.
A change in the rules that worked at-large
When Hedge-Morrell began pushing a few years ago to change the way the two at-large council members are elected, having candidates for each seat run in a separate race rather than all together in one field, she — unlike some of her supporters — never acknowledged that a main reason for the proposed City Charter amendment was the belief it would help get at least one black at-large member elected in a majority-black city. At that time, both at-large members were white.
Whether the change, which took effect with this year’s elections, really made much of a difference is hard to say, but despite her defeat Saturday, Hedge-Morrell can take comfort in the fact that the historic black-white split of the two at-large seats is back in place, even though she did not wind up being a beneficiary of it.
In fact, the seven-member council, which for a few years has had a white majority, will have just two white members starting in May: Head and Guidry.
Audubon Commission to gear up for Round 2
The Audubon Commission’s hopes of getting a 50-year property tax millage were dashed Saturday when voters rejected that proposal by a nearly 2-1 margin.
But that hardly means the idea is dead. Audubon Nature Institute CEO Ron Forman said Sunday that the group’s board of directors will regroup and try to figure out what went wrong by polling and holding focus groups.
“Once we have a grip on that, we’ll decide what to do next,” he said. “Even though we lost on Saturday, the passion, the vision, the importance of Audubon to our families is something we feel too strongly about not to ask about again, and see if we can do better next time.”
He suspects that a revamped millage proposal will seek a shorter term than 50 years, saying he heard plenty of pushback from voters about the proposed tax’s lifespan. Audubon might also seek simply extend to the tax at its current rate, rather than increase it, he said.
“Those are the things we were told” by opponents, he said. “But we’re going to go back and be very specific with the ‘no’ voters.”
Political analysts Ed Chervenak and Silas Lee both said the measure’s defeat came as no surprise to them. Lee said he felt the tax’s backers did a good job of reminding people about why they love the zoo, but that the campaign lacked specifics about how the proceeds of the millage would be spent.
Chervenak said he thought voters balked at 50 years and also “didn’t appreciate that it was done in a such a stealth manner, with no real explanation or details.”
He added that opponents “caught fire at the end.”
Forman said he knew getting the measure passed was going to be tough. “We were hopeful for a better return than we got,” he said.
Fortunately for Audubon, there’s plenty of time to regroup. Its current millages don’t expire for a few more years, and Forman acknowledged that getting the tax through Saturday was “not urgent.”
“Short term, we’re fine,” he said. “Our hope was to do this for the future” — a time when Forman himself presumably will be retired.
Compiled by Bruce Eggler and Gordon Russell