Saturday’s election revealed surprising but troubling new election day shifts. And we also saw stubborn old notions still in effect. Black chronic voters did not turn out at normal levels.  But race is still the biggest factor for too many voters. Saturday, Simone Levine bested Leon Roche in a tight battle.  And voters voted “Hell No!” to Sheriff Susan Hutson’s millage increase. Additionally, the impact of dark money on New Orleans campaigns seems limited to a particular kind of election. This election analysis boils down to low turnout and race.

Voters rejected the Sheriff’s tax increase at historic levels. 91% of voters voted no.  In fact, no tax increase effort  ever failed so miserably in the history of modern elections in New Orleans. Mostly this is because Sheriff Hutson is inexperienced and fired her senior staff.  She incorrectly thought she could not mount an information campaign to inform voters about her requested tax increase. So she only hosted a few sparsely attended community forums.  And she fired the staff person who spearheaded the millage effort.  Consequently those community forums failed to deliver a clear and  compelling reason that could persuade homeowners to increase their taxes. 

To get elected, Sheriff Hutson ran an ideas campaign. “The website is a disaster.  It’s old, dated and does not provide the data the public deserves.”  One of her campaign promises was to completely transform the office’s website.  But after a year the website looks pretty much the same.  The issue is the database the website uses for information is housed on an old computer platform that costs millions to upgrade.  Ironically that’s part of the reason she asked for new taxes.  But during her campaign, the sheriff also benefited from the outside dark money to help amplify her messaging.  As the elected sheriff she no longer benefits from the resources her campaign exploited so masterfully. Without the complementary magnifying media campaign backing her community forums, the voters completely rejected her tax hike.

Election Analysis Low Turnout & Race

And the dark outside money that catapulted Leon Roche into the runoff backfired this time.  Turnout in the white community doubled the black community. So that dark money did not influence black turnout and maybe even motivated a dedicated segment of the white community.   Political pundits say bad weather and the Jazzfest impacted turnout. But even Black chronic vote was down – a shocking 18% this election.  Councilman Oliver Thomas represents New Orleans East.  And in the East, five neighborhood associations had to vote to on taxes for their neighborhoods.  And despite voting to kill the sheriff’s tax, four of the neighborhoods overwhelmingly voted to keep their taxes on their properties. And these neighborhoods voted at nearly 20% on average.

“Our residents understand the importance of keeping our neighborhoods vibrant and safe,” said Thomas.  “And despite outside pressures and distractions, turnout in many of our neighborhoods was the highest in the city.”

The vilification of the black political consultant is another factor. Now candidates whose campaigns are managed by certain consultants are immediately discredited. People who spend time coaching and training and educating potential candidates are great citizens. However in racially tinged attacks, these consultants are labeled crooked when they work with black candidates. Yet these same consultants are sought after and engaged when white candidates seek the support of the black community. This hypocrisy must end. All of our futures are tied to the small patch of dirt below Lake Pontchartrain and around the Mississippi River. We can fight fairly. Without racial undercurrents.

But the key factor in the Criminal Court race that saw Simone Levine defeat Leon Roche was racial turnout.  84% of white residents who voted in this election voted for Levine. And white voter turnout was double black voter turnout. Additionally, Roche saw no benefit from the outside money that helped his campaign in the primary.  In New Orleans’ low turnout elections, whites primarily vote for white candidates and blacks primarily  vote for black candidates.  But DA Jason Williams tipped the scales. His  last minute commercial pushed just enough black votes to Levine to carry her to victory.  Many say endorsements are less significant, but in this  judicial election for criminal court, the DA’s endorsement was a key factor in the outcome. 

Ultimately our election analysis boils down to turnout and race.

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