New Orleans City Hall (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

Former state Sen. J.P. Morrell won election to the New Orleans City Council at-large Division 2 seat on Saturday. With 50.6 percent of the vote, Morrell just barely avoided a runoff against his top challenger, District C City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. 

Councilwoman Helena Moreno handily won reelection to her at-large Division 1 seat. She faced a challenge from Keneth Cutno, the same candidate she defeated in 2017. District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso was also reelected outright on Saturday, defeating challengers Amy Misko and Bob Murrell.

All other seats will be decided in the Dec. 11 runoff election, including two where incumbents are seeking reelection. In District B, Councilman Jay Banks will face Lesli Harris in the runoff. And in District E, Councilwoman Cindy Nguyen will face Oliver Thomas, a major political comeback for the former city councilman, who resigned from office in 2007 in the midst of a corruption scandal, pleading guilty to taking $20,000 in bribes.

There are two open seats as well. In District C, currently held by Palmer, Stephanie Bridges will face Freddie King. And in District D — a seat held by Jared Brossett, who suspended his campaign for the Division 2 at-large seat following his second DUI charge in a little more than a year — Eugene Green will face Troy Glover. Green, who served in former Mayor Marc Morial’s administration and as chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, led the field on Saturday. 

The most watched council race this season was the at-large Division 2 council seat. 

Palmer was first elected to the District C seat starting in 2010. She declined to run for reelection in 2014 but returned in 2017, defeating incumbent Nadine Ramsey to retake the seat. As councilwoman, Palmer helped lead the effort to reform the city’s short-term rental rules to make them much more restrictive than the existing rules drafted by former-Mayor Mitch Landreu’s administration.

Morrell comes from a prominent New Orleans political family. His father, Aurthur Morrell, served as a member of the state house of representatives and has served as Orleans Criminal Court Clerk since 2006. (He is retiring at the end of his current term.) His mother, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, is a former New Orleans City Councilwoman.  

Morrell was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2006 to take the place of his father, who vacated the seat after moving to the Clerk’s Office. He was elected to the state Senate in 2008 and remained there until 2020. One his landmark victories at the state legislature was authoring the legislation for a constitutional amendment ballot initiative that repealed a state law allowing split jury verdicts — one of the state’s biggest criminal justice reform efforts in years. 

A third candidate, Bart Everson, ran a long-shot campaign as a Green Party candidate. 

The race originally had a fourth contender: Jared Brossett. But in October, Brossett was caught asleep at the wheel at a gas station and arrested and booked with a DUI charge. That followed a previous drunk driving arrest in June 2020,  after he drove across the Elysian Fields neutral ground into oncoming traffic and crashed into another car. 

Shortly after his October arrest, Brossett suspended his campaign, although his name still appeared on the ballot and his votes were still counted. Palmer and Brosset had endorsed each other earlier in the race, arguing that either of them would do a better job than Morrell. 

The race between Palmer and Morrell was a nasty at times. Campaign materials cast Morrell as a political opportunist who helped shield his corrupt police officer brothers from justice (claims that Morrell addimettly rejects). Morrell, meanwhile, stressed Palmer’s role in helping to push through a 2011 zoning change that allowed the ill-fated Hard Rock hotel to be constructed on the site of the former Woolworth’s building on the corner of Canal Street and N. Rampart Street. The building had been the site of lunch counter protests and the proposed building was far taller than French Quarter zoning allowed. So the amendment passed against the wishes of preservationists and civil rights leaders. Palmer called it “abhorrent” that Morrell would use the Hard Rock tragedy for political gain. 

Charles Maldonado contributed to this report.

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...