by Kenneth Cooper

To the winner goes the spoils, but not before they control the narrative. Which story will it be? Old school law and order Keva Landrum vs criminal justice reform advocate Jason Williams?  An experienced judge and leader of structural change vs a man who cheats on his taxes? Then there’s Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s endorsement. This is the first big race where she puts her name on the line. The New Orleans DA’s Race will have be a hotly contested battle.

In the last administration, an endorsement from the mayor typically didn’t go over well. In fact near the end of Mitch Landrieu’s last term, his endorsement usually was the kiss of death for candidates. Now, in the midst of the Coronavirus, how much influence does mayor Cantrell have after slow walking the city through the reopening process?

Keva Landrum

Like Mitt Romney kept women in a binder, Keva Landrum had better do her best to keep Leon Cannizzaro in a corner. Once a potential contender for mayor, Cannizzaro now bows out as a disgraced DA known for issuing fake subpoenas, harassing witnesses, and trumping up charges to throw black people in jail. He’s also a major backer of Landrum.

While she’s at it, Landrum might also want to keep her record tucked away. Apparently, she’s made a career out of Cannizzaro type practices – withholding evidence and going hard on marijuana to boost convictions. According to the ACLU, her score card is pretty bad when it comes to your civil liberties too.  They say she won’t even pledge to not try juveniles as adults. Of course, the issue is more complicated than that, but it’s not a good look to have that come up next to your name in a google search.

In the primary, Landrum has tried to distance herself from Cannizzaro by vowing reforms. She talks of reforming the the DA’s office reputation so that the office has a better relationship with the public. The main focus will be getting violent criminals off the street. She also talks of moving some marijuana cases from criminal to municipal court. And she has made a point of leaning on her experience as an asset without getting into too much detail about her record. “For people who criticize my experience, it is only an attempt to hide their lack of experience,” she once said.

Jason Williams

How can Jason Williams be trusted to prosecute people who break the law when he’s out here breaking it himself? Are his proposed reforms just a bunch of platitudes, the musings of a naïve candidate who doesn’t understand the inner workings of the DA’s office? So go the narratives.

Like Landrum, Williams has also promised reforms. His approach though has leaned more towards the preemptive rather than the retributive. He has lofty goals. “I’m trying to build better boys and girls,” he once said, “rather than rebuild broken men and women.” Soaring rhetoric aside, on a more practical scale, he talks of reforming the screening division of the DA’s office. Williams will end Cannizzaro’s practice of acceptance 90% of the cases the NOPD sends to the DA’s office. Like Landrum, he also talks of moving some marijuana cases from criminal to municipal court.

Williams appears to be focusing his retributive side toward the NOPD and their alleged sins of the past. He’s vowed to take reports of police conduct more seriously than the previous DA. He’s also vowed to do what his office can to overturn wrongful convictions. Most of this would be accomplished through revamping internal divisions. That sounds nice in a speech but will probably be much harder to implement in practice. Expect Landrum to label some of his plans as naive examples that demonstrate his lack of experience.  

Mayor Cantrell’s Endorsement Of Keva Landrum

If onions, bell pepper, and celery are the holy trinity of New Orleans seasoning, then the Mayor’s, Sheriff’s, and DA’s offices are the holy trinity of its politics. This DA’s race is a big one for Mayor Cantrell. She has a lot to gain. A Landrum win would put the mayor’s stamp on 2/3 of the political trinity.  Paired with her appointed police chief, the win would also give the mayor a lot of control behind the scenes.  She can control the narrative and practice of criminal justice reform in New Orleans. But with a bunch of businessmen and women still bitter about the mayor’s handling of the Coronavirus, it’ll be interesting to see how her endorsement affects Landrum in the runoff.

Narratives aside, this DA’s race is a runoff election is the top of the ballot in New Orleans.  There is no Kamala Harris to give Landrum a stronger than normal turnout of women. Expect the usual low voter turnout. With less than 20% of voters probably headed to the polls, the candidate who wins will most likely be the one with the most engaged base of voters. Landrum and Williams have three weeks until the December 5th election. You can best believe that as the date gets closer there will be an increase in mud slinging as well as knocking on doors.

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