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Poll Primer: Hot Races on the New Orleans Ballot

By William Dilella

Election Day is upon us, and though the Presidential race is drawing a great deal of attention, there are several races on the ballot of great local concern that will affect the Greater New Orleans area for the coming years. With two Council seats up for grabs, a school board race with over $100,000 in contributions riding on it, two amendments and the potential loss of a Congressman on the hill, the 2012 election has much to offer the discerning voter down the ballot.


City Council: District E

District E, by far, has the more complicated back-story of the two coming council races.


At the beginning of 2012, then-Councilperson Jon Johnson was part way through a term that was supposed to last until 2014, but in July of 2012, Johnson, disgraced, pled guilty to corruption charges and was forced to step down.


After the current interim—Ernest "Freddie" Charbonnet—was named, six people officially announced campaigns, but a lawsuit was filed against former Councilperson for District E, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who had thrown her hat for candidacy. The suit alleged Ms. Willard-Lewis was not eligible to run, as it would violate the City Charter, and the judge found in favor of that argument, and Willard-Lewis had to back out—leaving five contenders: Austin Badon (D), Jerrelda Drummer Sanders (D), James Gray (D), Dana Henry (D), and Mary Fontenot Smith (D).


City Council: District B

When Stacy Head took over the Council-at-Large seat vacated by Arnie Fielkow earlier this year, she left open her seat for District B—one which she’d won in 2006 and then again in 2010. With that vacancy, four candidates emerged to claim the position—Latoya Cantrell (D), Marlon “10th Ward Buck” Horton (D), Eric Strachan (D), and Dana Kaplan (D).


The race has seen much press, and even more money. As each candidate works to snatch up as many endorsements as he or she can, while tens of thousands are put toward getting the word out on just who has more experience working with the diverse community that is District B. All four candidates can cite their efforts for each individual neighborhood and even though there are clear favorites in the race, a run off is already being predicted.


School Board District 3

When it comes to money, District B doesn’t hold a candle to the District 3 school board race. Incumbent candidate Brett Bonin has been fighting for his seat against the well organized and well funded (over $100,000 worth) campaign Sarah Newell Usdin.


Usdin has been at the helm of one of the city’s leading charter school advocacy groups, and much of her $100,000 is coming from businesses with a vested interest in such schools, or advocates and entrepreneurs working with independent and charter school groups.



Ballot Question: Right to Bear Arms

The Second Amendment revision on the November 6 ballot would change the phrasing for the statute permitting citizens the right to carry and possess arms. The number one change would require “strict scrutiny” before enacting any law to limit the right to bear arms.


Sen. Neil Riser (R-District 32), who authored the bill, says that the new phrasing would hold laws to a higher standard, protecting the right of each citizen first and requiring a, “compelling government interest, being narrowly defined to achieve that intent.”


Riser said this would make Louisiana’s protection of this right second to none, but does admit that it would favor gun owners rights first, though it would not directly undo any laws already passed and on the books.


Ballot Question: Crescent City Connection Tolls

The Crescent City Connection Bridge tolls are up for vote, with the passing cars paying for another twenty years (until 2033) if it passes, or leaving a deficit of millions for the bridge’s repairs, maintenance, and operations—some tens of millions per annum.


The amendment will appear on the Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parish ballots on Election Day, despite some protests from members of the Westbank business community. These opponents call the tolls a, “tax on the Westbankers,” an unfair one at that. However, these opponents cited no alternatives to fund the Crescent City Connection’s expenses, which would become a state financial responsibility.


Though the legislators who have put forth the amendment, and the many who voted in favor, were willing to let those who pay the toll decide on the idea.


“I think the people who pay the tolls deserve to say either they want them or they don’t,” Jefferson Parish elected Rep. Bryan Adams (R-85).



Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District

The redrawing of Congressional Districts following the 2010 census put some representatives and others in state office at odds with each other—since there were fewer districts to go around. In the area of the 3rd and 7th districts, towns like Lafayette were drawn in with other larger cities in the immediate area. And though this area does not immediately effect Orleans Parish and New Orleans proper, one of two currently serving incumbents already in office for years is now set to lose their spot a winner take all election—taking some of Louisiana’s political power in Washington with them.


Congressman Jeff Landry and Congressman Charles W. Boustany, M.D (R)—who had been serving the 7th Congressional District—along with challengers Dr. Bryan Barrilleaux and Ron Richard are now all running for the one 3rd State District seat. The two congressmen have been getting more attention from the media for their lack of public interaction, as the two congressman spent more of the race canceling debates than attending. The two finally met on the same public platform on October 31, where the two Congressmen traded most of the blows they’d sending to each other via press release.


Landry is a staunch conservative with much energy from his recent election into office, while Boustany holds positions in committees and brings much attention to Louisiana politics on the hill. Landry accuses Boustany of being an insider, while Boustany says Landry’s record leaves much to be desired. One way or another, Louisiana loses a Congressman (or two) along with their political clout come next term.


Voting takes place…today. But don’t be surprised with so many candidates in each of the races if we all won’t be heading back to the polls this December.

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