Kickoff speeches often telegraph the themes that a candidate plans to emphasize during a campaign, and Desirée Charbonnet’s Monday night announcement did that, and more.
The former municipal court judge, who left office recently to run for New Orleans mayor, spent much of her energetic speech outlining her pitch to voters, most of whom have never had a chance to watch her on the job. She talked about coming from a deeply rooted family that has “served the city for generations.” She emphasized her administrative background as recorder of mortgages, when she got the office reopened quickly after Hurricane Katrina, and as chief judge who oversaw the merger of municipal and traffic courts. And she hit the gender angle hard, entering the room to Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” noting that she was he first woman elected to either of the aforementioned offices and declaring her intent to “make history” as the city’s first female mayor.
And that brings us to the “and more” part.
Charbonnet, of course, is not the first female candidate to join the small field. She follows City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, and her speech offered a number of implicit contrasts.
When Charbonnet talks of being a “child of New Orleans,” it may well remind voters that Cantrell is not a native. Her emphasis on administration sets her experience apart from Cantrell’s legislative background, and may be aimed at blunting the argument that council members have more direct experience working on the issues a mayor faces. And with two women in the race, each will surely repeat Charbonnet’s argument that the city should elect not just a woman, but the “right woman.”
It’s worth noting here that there are also two men in the race, retired Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris and businessman Frank Scurlock, with more possibly (but not definitely) to come. It’s also worth mentioning that, while Cantrell announced her bid several months ago, she has not held a kickoff with a big speech.
And it’s worth noting another contrast that Charbonnet didn’t, but didn’t need to. Her event was packed with veterans of New Orleans politics and government. State Sen. Troy Carter’s glowing introduction made official his long-rumored decision not to seek the office himself. Also on hand were City Councilman Jared Brossett, Constable Lambert Boissiere Jr., former sheriff and attorney general Charlie Foti, former police superintendent Eddie Compass and a wide array of experienced campaign hands, many of whom are already at work on her behalf.
This presents yet another possible contrast with Cantrell, who also has some veterans in her corner but who can still seize the outsider mantle.
There’s much more to come, including more details about actual issues, which Charbonnet only touched on briefly. But this much is becoming clear: Charbonnet and Cantrell are each hoping to make history the same way, but they’ll be running very different races.