In order to understand the dynamics of the race and where it is likely to go, it all starts at the ultra-salient fact that a majority (50.2 percent) of city registered voters are black and they have a history of almost uniformly voting for black candidates. Further, unless a significant minority of the black community supports a white candidate, recent history has shown, it tends to overwhelmingly support one black candidate for the top job.
Wooley, a white Republican, does not have the candidacy that can pull this off. His quick rise to prominence that knocked off far more experienced (and older) politicians in 2006 for his current post and his largely steady performance since meant he could have retained it. Instead, almost certainly the best he can do in his mayoral quest is to make the general election runoff where the numbers make it almost impossible for him to win, not just because of monolithic black voting for black Democrats like Burrell and Glover, but also because white liberals will forsake his conservatism.
If Wooley had been counting on disaffection with Glover – over a seemingly drifting city government with Glover antagonizing other political elites with an imperious manner – to drive just enough white liberals and blacks into his column, his task was made more complicated by the entrance of Burrell, who holds himself out as more “moderate” than Glover. Burrell’s strategy is to corral the discomfort with Glover among the coalition that put him into office, at least enough of it to make the runoff against either candidate, for he wins either way. Thus, if Wooley wants Glover in a runoff, he might well get Burrell instead.
However, whether Burrell can do this is an entirely different matter. Since leaving the City Council nearly eight years ago and ensconcing himself in the state House a year later, he has been less connected in city politics than was Glover who did the same thing and, like Burrell seeks to do, then win the job while serving in the House. Glover had the advantage in carrying water in the Legislature for the previous administration of Keith Hightower and therefore also having no incumbent to face.
Burrell also may find his “moderate” claim a hard sell to voters. He’s never voted that way in the Legislature; his six-year average on my Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting scorecard is 24, which puts him among the most liberal/populist members of the House, capped in 2009 with a 0 making him (tied for) the most liberal member of the Legislature then and in 2010 recovered somewhat to a 30. But by going by the bills he’s introduced into the House this year, he didn't change his uber-liberal reputation much.. For example, his HB 1402 essentially would institute semi-set-asides for “disadvantaged” groups of people, much like the city’s quasi-quota Fair Share program defended by Glover.
Thus, despite squabbles with the Council over things such as financial reporting and funds usage and with the citizenry over stuff like closing railroad crossings and nuisance plant control, Glover still has a pretty good chance of consolidating the black vote. If that happens, he can’t be beaten, meaning Burrell won’t make a runoff. Wooley’s best bet was to hope he and Glover were the only two major candidates, leaving him as the only real alternative, and thereby win without a runoff if enough disaffection with Glover existed; in a runoff against either black candidate where black turnout tends to be disproportionately higher than in the general election, he has little chance of victory.
For Burrell, even defeat produces a payoff: higher visibility for what he may be signaling as an attempt after Glover, if the incumbent wins, facing term limits, for 2014. Burrell himself is limited out in 2015 (if he wins a final term) and this warm-up effort could gain future resources to get the top spot in four years without sacrificing present office now. By contrast, Wooley’s cost is higher because he must give up a relatively safe seat with not much chance of moving up where, given demographics, he likely already has reached his peak in city office. This sacrifice is worthwhile only if state or even national office is on his mind in the next few years.