New Orleans mayoral race
Speculation of candidates seeking Nagin's job grows
By Christopher Tidmore, Political Columnist
October 31, 2005
After last week's revelation in this newspaper that
former Council President Peggy Wilson had met with
consultants for a bid to seek the Orleans' Chief
Executive post, sources reveal to The Louisiana Weekly
that State Senator Francis Heitmeier is also
considering a bid for Mayor.
The Algiers Democrat, a Caucasian, hails from one of
the only parts of New Orleans untouched by Hurricane
Katrina and its subsequent flooding. With
neighborhoods and voters intact, he could prove a
formidable challenge to any candidate, especially
Wilson who would count on the area's middle class
As last week's article noted, the changing racial
dynamics of the Crescent City point to a white
candidate having an advantage in February. The recent
post-Katrina survey done by the Red Cross shows,
however, that at best 40% of the population of Orleans
Parish will be Black by February. With the continued
refusal of FEMA to fund a plan to help displaced New
Orleanians participate in local elections or give
state leaders access to the agency's database
containing temporary addresses of evacuated residents,
African-American turnout may even be lower.
Heitmeier has long been what some insiders have called
"the political boss of Algiers." Hailing from the one
fully functional part of New Orleans, the moderate
Democrat might have enough strength to force a runoff
position. Moreover, term limited in the legislature in
2007, he has little else on which to spend his flush
campaign war chest.
The resignation of the current Levee Board President,
though, highlights the Senator's chief disadvantage.
In a city acutely tired of corruption, Jim Huey
granted no-bid contracts in the days leading up to the
storm to members of Heitmeier's family. Considering
that Huey owed his nine-year tenure on the Board to
the patronage of the Senator, implications of alleged
public malfeasance by Huey could arise in the Mayor's
race-much to Wilson's advantage.
Wilson served briefly on the Levee Board in the waning
days of the Foster Administration and was a loud
critic of the District's practices, particularly the
decisions of Jim Huey.
She warned that the machinations of the Board,
particularly the controversy to privatize Lakefront
Airport, a Levee District property, were distracting
the District from concentrating on flood control.
While the Republican might bemoan the loss of
middle-class voters to Heitmeier in Algiers, his
associations with the malfunctioning Levee District
could prove a vital campaign theme, with 80% of the
city flooded beyond inhabitance.
Heitmeier's presence also harms the campaign of
Councilman At-Large Eddie Sapir. The working class
whites and blacks that would be attracted to the
populist candidate-with an admirable record on civil
rights-might find a better choice with a homegrown
That puts the prospective field into an open contest.
Sapir potentially carries liberals, white and black,
across the city. Senator Ed Murray, the strongest
African-American candidate, likely draws black support
remaining in the city. Wilson holds white moderates
and conservatives particularly in her bases in Uptown
and in the Preservationist community in Farbourg
Marigny. Mayor Nagin has no clear constituency at this
point with the other candidates so strongly entrenched
in theirs, but his power of incumbency certainly
delivers votes in middle class black and white
Councilpersons Jackie Clarkson and Oliver Thomas
remain focused on running for Council At-Large posts
and do not appear to threaten.
At this point, the major question looms: what choice
will Mitch Landrieu make? If the scion of the state's
most powerful political family, with a golden name in
both white and black sectors of the city chooses to
run, most experts agree that all dynamics change
Deliberations in the Jefferson Parish Council chambers
have never employed the courtly manners that one
finds, for example, at the Oxford Union Debates, but
outward politeness between elected officials has
usually been a given. That is until Jefferson Parish
President Aaron Broussard accused Councilman At-Large
John Young of telling a falsehood. Could the ill will
be a sign of an election challenge to come?
"You're a liar," Broussard yelled at Young last week
at a council meeting. The Councilman At-Large had
joined in the chorus of questioners wondering why the
Parish President had not taken any action to turn on
the flood pumping stations earlier in the wake of
Katrina. Broussard responded that Young had been
briefed, prior to Katrina, that parish pump workers
would be relieved of their duties six hours before the
storm, and the President said, Young was in charge of
overseeing the pumps after the storm-or so Broussard
had assigned him.
No such duties had been given him, the Councilman
At-Large retorted. Not a word about the pump workers
had come from Broussard before the Hurricane passed.
The Council President, under public and media fire,
for sending the pump workers too far north in order to
return as the post-Katrina floodwaters overtook
thousands of homes in Jefferson Parish, was likely
annoyed with further questions coming from the
Council. However, Broussard, a former Council
President, usually plays the perfect model of
interpersonal relationships with his fellow
His annoyance may come from the fact that John Young
reportedly wants Broussard's job.
Highly placed sources within the Louisiana Republican
Party tell The Louisiana Weekly that Young has
approached several past supporters to back him in a
race for Parish President against Democrat Aaron
Young, who stayed in the parish through Katrina and in
the weeks following, reportedly is frustrated with
Broussard for "keeping the council out of the loop" of
With public frustration at Broussard at an all time
high, Young reasons that Broussard might be open to a
Unlike Orleans, with an election on February 4th,
Jefferson does not go to the polls for almost two
years. If Young can parley public frustration against
the inactive pumps for that long remains to be seen.
Huey resigns; Bruno feels Vindicated...
Former Assistant to the President of the Orleans Levee
Board Vincent Bruno lost his job and was mercilessly
attacked in the press and in political circles when he
accused Jim Huey of misusing Levee Board funds.
With the resignation of Huey, Bruno feels he has been
vindicated. "I'm very pleased," he told the Weekly.
"It's about time."
Bruno first broke in this newspaper what came to be
called the Trousergate scandal. Huey allegedly hired a
private detective to follow radio talk show host
Robert Namer and two employees of the board, in their
off duty hours. Records obtained by The Louisiana
Weekly revealed canceled checks in the thousands of
dollars to pay for the surveillance issued under
The final straw against Huey came in the weeks prior
to Katrina. The Board President said he obtained legal
opinions certifying that he was entitled to about
$96,000 in unpaid back pay dating to June 19, 1996,
the day he was chosen board president. The separate
legal opinions Huey cited were prepared by attorneys
linked to him including Gerard Metzger, a high school
friend of Huey's-who also works as a contract lawyer
for the board. Huey did not request an opinion from
the board's staff attorney.
Following the flooding caused by the Hurricane, Huey
said after putting in long hours of service to the
board, he felt that it was time to take advantage of a
law letting levee board presidents collect a
Huey defended himself in a letter to Governor Blanco.
The Board President said, "It is unfortunate that you
have not been afforded the facts, but given the
challenges before us, I am confident that this is the
appropriate action to take at this time."
Once the "facts are reviewed," Huey told Blanco, "you
will find all decisions and actions taken during this
time of crisis will prove to have been made in the
interest of the Orleans Levee District."
Under the agency's rules, Huey's resignation means
that Vice President Mike McCrossen becomes acting
president. McCrossen, named to the board a year ago by
Blanco, is the former Orleans Parish recorder of
mortgages, an elected post he held from 1990 to 1998.
Unknown to the general public, McCrossen had begun to
question Huey's decisions within the last two years,
and reportedly brought up his concerns about other
recent Levee Board decisions to the Governor prior to