Louisiana 2011 Legislative Analysis – Senate District 5

Incumbent – Karen Carter Peterson (D – Term Limited in 2023)

District Map

Senate District 5


Vote History

2008 President

  Current District New District
John McCain (R) 6257 (18%) 7800 (17%)
Barack Obama (D) 27545 (80%) 38206 (82%)
Others 674 (2%) 828 (2%)


2008 Senate

  Current District New District
Mary Landrieu (D) 27796 (83%) 38208 (85%)
John Kennedy (R) 4818 (14%) 6002 (13%)
Others 737 (2%) 1005 (2%)


2010 Senate

  Current District New District
David Vitter (R) 4493 (20%) 5481 (19%)
Charlie Melancon (D) 16616 (75%) 22400 (77%)
Others 1019 (5%) 1355 (5%)


2010 Lt Governor

  Current District New District
Jay Dardenne (R) 5549 (25%) 6827 (23%)
Caroline Fayard (D) 16621 (75%) 22400 (77%)

Current District

No senate district exemplifies the changing demographics of New Orleans more than Senate District 5. It is located wholly within the city, and is bordered roughly by Canal Street, the Mississippi River, Jefferson Avenue, and Carrollton Avenue. It is a racially mixed district that includes everything from housing projects, stately mansions along St. Charles Avenue, and several universities.

Senate District 5 once had a solid 60% black voting majority, but that majority has eroded down to 51%. Certainly the argument can be made that Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst for this change (the number of black registered voters decreased 26% over the past decade), in that since 2005, you have had black outmigration in addition to the destruction of several housing projects. However, a closer look at the voter registration data shows that the white voter population has steadily increased over the decade both before and after Katrina.

Politically, this is a strongly Democratic district. The black majority certainly provides Democratic candidates with a head start, but there is a sizable white liberal element here that enables Democrats to attain about 80% of the vote here in most elections (the white precincts in the district favored Charlie Melancon over David Vitter 52-44%, one of his strongest performances with white voters in the whole state).

While the demographic changes have not changed the partisan preferences much, the Senate representation has changed over time. In 1979, Bill Jefferson was one of the first blacks to be elected to the Louisiana Senate, and served there without much fuss until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990. He was succeeded by state representative Diana Bajoie, who was also a black Democrat. She served until term limits forced her to retire in 2007, and she was usually unopposed in her re-election efforts. She attempted to run for the New Orleans City Council, but was unsuccessful.

Four Democrats ran for the open Senate seat in 2007, and state representatives Cheryl Gray and Jalila Jefferson-Bullock (the former Congressman’s daughter) made the runoff. Unfortunately for Jefferson-Bullock, the baggage of the Jefferson name in post Katrina New Orleans proved too much for his daughter to overcome, and Rep. Gray won with a whopping 71% of the vote. Even though black voter turnout was, percentage-wise, less than half that of white turnout (voter rolls hadn’t yet been updated to reflect those who left after Katrina), Cheryl Gray augmented her 90% support in the white precincts with approximately 40% support in the black  neighborhoods.

Rep. Gray resigned midway through her term, however, as her husband had a job with the Navy in Connecticut. In the special election which was subsequently called in early 2010, state representative Karen Carter Peterson was elected in the primary with 78% of the vote. (UPDATED 9/9/2011) Senator Peterson is allowed to serve three more terms in the Senate, and was unopposed in 2011.

New District

Reapportionment within the city of New Orleans was an unpleasant affair, given the massive population losses. Despite the white migration into areas like the Garden District, Uptown, and the Warehouse District, the district was still 29% below the population of an “ideal” district. Fortunately for Senator Peterson, the New Orleans East district was the one which was eliminated, which meant that District 5 was able to expand into other districts to pick up the necessary population. Some white liberal precincts around Tulane which were 7% black were added from Senate District 6 (represented by Julie Quinn), since that district was dismantled during redistricting. Senate District 4 (represented by Ed Murray) also contributed some 90% black precincts in the area neat Carrollton at Airline Highway, as well as a series of precincts between I-10 and Broad near the Business District. Finally, the district stretched into Jefferson Parish to pick up three precincts between Earhart Expressway and Airline Highway that were 78% black.

These changes overall increased the black voter registration from 51 to 53%. While these changes maintain a solidly Democratic district, it will be interesting to see whether (1) the white migration/black outmigration continues, and (2) whether these demographic changes would enable a white Democrat to get elected at some point in the future.