When NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune last spoke to Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet about rumors that she would run for mayor, she said to mark her down as a firm “no.” But now, according to several sources who asked not to be identified, Charbonnet’s supporters aren’t taking no for an answer.
Word began circulating last week that Charbonnet was paying more attention to people who think she could excel in the mayor’s race, and Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics reported as much on Friday (subscriber access). In his weekly newsletter, Alford wrote that a “narrative has been building slowly” around Charbonnet’s local roots.
Charbonnet is the sister of Bernard Charbonnet, a prominent New Orleans lawyer who has been politically active in the past: He served in the administration of former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and was an adviser to Judge Paulette Irons when she ran for mayor. She is also a cousin of former state Rep. Louis Charbonnet III.
Alford reported that political watchers have pointed out that Charbonnet could run a credible race as the New Orleans native when pitted against state Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), who’s originally from St. Bernard Parish, or Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who has lived in New Orleans since 1990 but is originally from California.
Sidney Torres, the flashy businessman who helped organize police protection for the French Quarter, has said he’ll decide in July whether to run for mayor, but he also doesn’t have the New Orleans family connections that Charbonnet has.
Another potential advantage for Charbonnet: the connections her family has made through operating the Charbonnet Family Services funeral home, which could be leveraged in a tight political race. Her cousin, Louis Charbonnet III, took over the business from Charbonnet’s uncle in the 1980s.
Charbonnet’s supporters also tout her track record in citywide races. In 1998, at age 28, she defeated incumbent Recorder of Mortgages Mike McCrossen. That win was seen as an indication of the declining power of former Mayor Marc Morial, who had supported Charbonnet’s opponent and another candidate who lost that year.
In her next citywide race, for municipal court judge in 2007, Charbonnet won handily with 57 percent of the vote. Her opponents were Tracey Flemings-Davillier and Clarence Roby, who both polled in the low 20s.
Charbonnet has said she wants to continue her judicial role and run for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, and has avoided talking mayoral politics because she’s ethically bound not to use her office to make a play for office.
As Alford pointed out, the decision could carry more risk for Charbonnet than other candidates. Unlike Carter, Cantrell and Leger, Charbonnet would have to quit her job before she could publicly establish her candidacy. Leger, Carter and Cantrell are all able to run while continuing in their elected positions.
Leger and Carter have the least to lose: If they run for mayor and lose, they would return to the Legislature next year and not face re-election until 2019. If Cantrell were to lose a race for mayor, she’d return to the City Council to serve out the remainder of her term, which ends in May.
Charbonnet declined to comment for this story.