Mayoral, other campaigns likely to start in earnest after Jan. 1, and other political notes

Because the ballot for city elections took shape so late, with some major candidates not announcing their intentions until the mid-December qualifying period, the runup to the Feb. 1 primary is expected to be a sprint.

With few people paying attention over the holidays, the races won’t kick off in earnest (save for Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s heavy rotation of his gospel-tinged first campaign ad) until at least Thursday — leaving candidates just a month to make themselves heard.

The din will likely get pretty loud pretty quickly. Several candidates, including former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, who is taking on Landrieu at the top of the ballot, and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who is facing a challenge from longtime former Sheriff and former Attorney General Charles Foti, are expected to start airing their own ads almost as soon as the new year begins.

Thursday will also mark the first major deadline for campaign finance reports, with candidates posting their receipts and expenses for the two months that ended Dec. 23.

Those could be telling: Landrieu was sitting on a war chest of about $1.6 million when he last reported, and Gusman had more than $500,000 in the bank. Their challengers hadn’t begun to raise money at that point, although Foti reported having about $150,000 left over from an earlier campaign.

Foti, in a brief phone interview, said Friday that he still hasn’t raised any money, though he’s lined up many commitments. “We’ve got a lot of promises out there for after the first of the year,” he said.

Ron Nabonne, Gusman’s campaign manager, said Gusman still has around $500,000 and plans to raise more money during the race.

“We will have an aggressive media campaign,” Nabonne said. “We’re anticipating a tough, aggressive race.”

Along with Foti, Gusman also faces a challenge from Orleans Parish School Board President Ira Thomas, who did not return a phone call Friday. Thomas did not report having any money on hand as of the last reporting period, but Nabonne said Gusman “is not going to take anybody for granted.”

In the mayor’s race, it seems unlikely that Bagneris will have any hope of matching Landrieu dollar-for-dollar. It’s not clear he needs to, but even Bagneris supporters acknowledge that the judge — who hadn’t faced voters in two decades when he quit the bench this month — will need some money to make himself familiar to New Orleanians.

Greg Buisson, Bagneris’ campaign manager, said money is steadily rolling in. Bagneris’ first fundraiser — the only one that will be reflected on next week’s reports — brought in “six figures,” he said. “I feel confident we’ll have the money we need to run the race.”

Buisson said he’s seen nothing so far to back up rumors that Bagneris is receiving major aid from Republicans near and far seeking to weaken the Landrieu brand. But he acknowledged that, were such an effort afoot, the money might go to independent groups rather than to the Bagneris campaign itself.

“You can’t control it,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some PAC money flowing into a race like this. I don’t know if it will be meaningful, or whether it will be for us or against us, but you might see it.”

Bagneris joins Twitter

He’s got only 10 followers so far — compared to 18,504 for the man he’s trying to unseat as mayor — but Bagneris is now on Twitter.

The newly minted candidate dipped his toe into the social media app for the first time Friday with a public-service announcement of sorts, reminding New Orleanians that Thursday is the deadline for registering for those who wish to vote Feb. 1.

According to Bagneris’ inaugural tweets, the registrar of voters’ two offices will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, meaning those who wish to register by the deadline must do so either Monday or Thursday.

GOP consolidation

The two Republican candidates in New Orleans’ crowded District A City Council race will be joining forces to bolster the chances of a GOP victory.

Reid Stone announced this week he is withdrawing from the race and joining Drew Ward’s campaign as communications manager, whittling the six-candidate field down to five.

With that many candidates in the race, Stone said it didn’t make sense to have two of them splitting the Republican vote. While Stone, a co-founder of the HERO|farm marketing firm, said both he and Ward have ties to the business community, he said he decided to drop out because of Ward’s greater connections with neighborhood organizations.

Republicans held the District A seat for many years until Shelley Midura, a Democrat, ousted Jay Batt in 2006. Susan Guidry, also a Democrat, succeeded Midura in 2010.

In addition to Ward, three other candidates are challenging Guidry: David Capasso and Jason Coleman, both Democrats, and Stephen Gordon, whose party affiliation is listed as “other” on the secretary of state’s website.

The District A race is the only Orleans Parish campaign that has drawn any Republican candidates for the Feb. 1 election. While even Stone acknowledged a Republican victory would be an uphill battle, the Uptown and Lakefront district doesn’t pose as insurmountable a challenge as other areas of New Orleans.

About 22 percent of the voters in the district are registered Republicans, almost twice the percentage of the next-reddest district. About a third of the voters in the district did not identify with either major party when they registered to vote.

“I think there’s a very good chance for a Republican to be in the runoff,” Stone said. “And once you get to the runoff, it’s an entirely new election.”

Discount no problem

Jefferson Parish would face no ethical issues by offering its employees discounted tickets to a New Orleans Pelicans game, according to an opinion approved by the state Board of Ethics.

The parish sought the opinion in October after the Pelicans offered to host a discount-ticket night for parish employees, according to the parish’s request for an ethics opinion. The offer is similar to those the Pelicans make to other public and private entities, according to the request.

Because that discount is available as a “commonly offered promotion” to similar groups of people, it would not violate the state Code of Governmental Ethics, according to the opinion approved by the Board of Ethics last week.

Compiled by Gordon Russell and Jeff Adelson