In this very strange year of the pandemic, the strangest local political contest right now appears to be between City Judge Grace Gasaway and 7th Ward Marshal Pat Farris.
It’s strange because they are not running for the same office.
Gasaway is seeking her fifth term as city judge, an office also sought by Hammond attorney John Watts. Farris is seeking re-election to the 7th Ward marshal’s office, a position held for decades by the late Vic Anderson and his son, Victor Gordon Anderson Jr. and now being also sought by lawman Charles Deliberto, who until recently was employed by Farris as a deputy marshal.
The city judge and the 7th Ward marshal make their headquarters in the same building, the former Hammond city hall and police station now known as the Leon Ford Memorial Justice Building at 303 E. Thomas St.
The marshal’s office is on the first floor, and the judge’s office above. But Judge Gasaway and Marshal Farris apparently have been “sideways” with each other for some time.
That these two incumbents would attract challengers did not come as a total surprise.
Farris beat a slate of seven other candidates to win office in 2014 but came into controversy over the marshal’s pay and the wording of the law that established it. The matter was first noticed by one of Judge Gasaway’s alert employees while she was reading up on the laws.
Gasaway was unopposed in her past re-election bids, but as the recent qualifying period neared, there was talk that a challenger would enter the race. Sure enough, a personal injury attorney with a law office on North Cypress Street threw his hat in the ring.
Watts’ photo has not appeared in the news as often as some. As an attorney who is also in real estate, he has money to wage a campaign. A recent poll conducted by a professional consultant may give him reason to believe the strong cadre of attorneys backing Gasaway is not enough to sway the election in her favor. He might see a positive in their party differences: he’s Republican, and she’s Democrat.
For an attorney who wants to be judge, the city court position is very attractive because, unlike in district court, the city judge is the only judge. And, remember, it’s a six-year term.
For much the same reasons, the 7th Ward marshal position is attractive too. Some people – not the candidates, of course – but some people might even say both jobs are plum.
Just to keep “who’s who” and “who’s for whom” straight in my head, when the qualifying period ended last week, I got out a piece of paper and drew a line down the center. I wrote “Judge” at the top of the left side and “Marshal” at the top on the right side.
Under “Judge” were four categories: “For Gasaway,” “Against Gasaway,” “For Watts” and “Against Watts.” Under “Marshal,” the categories were similarly divided into “For Farris,” “Against Farris,” “For Deliberto” and “Against Deliberto.”
My little unofficial poll mostly involved talking with some attorneys and law enforcers – current and not so current – who, at one time or another, have walked the halls of the Leon Ford III Memorial Justice Building.
Their input led me to draw a lot of arrows and not just between the opponents in the two races. Some of the arrows crossed the page between “Judge” and “Marshal.” For example, marshal candidate Deliberto has a strong campaign leader in Brandon Recotta, son of Judge Gasaway’s Clerk of Court Guy Recotta Jr.
And there were arrows that shot off to the side, such as the speculation that, if Sheriff Daniel Edwards were to decide to retire, Farris might consider a run against Bry Layrisson for sheriff before the next six-year term of marshal ends. Farris used to be assistant police chief in Ponchatoula and has strong family ties there. Layrisson is Ponchatoula’s police chief and part of a strong political family. Ponchatoula is part of the 7th Ward. I wrote “Ponchatoula” with a question mark.
Looking at my lines and scribblings, I concluded that politics are complicated.
There’s always talk and supposition about who’s supporting whom and what their motives might be, but astute politicians say the only person who makes the decision about whether to run for office is ultimately the candidate himself or herself.
The example given to me is state Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany. In another five years, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux might decide he’s ready to retire and Mack might consider taking another run for DA against a current ADA like, for example, Brad Cascio or Taylor Anthony, or – depending on what happens at the state level – Mack might eye his chances for attorney general. After all, he came very close to becoming speaker of the House. In these strange times, who can predict what will happen tomorrow, much less what opportunities might arise in the future.