NEW ORLEANS -- Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has a lot to overcome in his race for re-election. Conditions at the sprawling prison complex he runs got so bad, a federal court ordered sweeping changes.
One of his top officials and a prison contractor both pleaded guilty in a bid-rigging and kickback scheme at the jail.
"There's been a lot of attention on what goes wrong and look this is a tough job and things go wrong," Gusman said. "But, they're also a whole lot of things that are going right. Once people hear about all of that, I think we'll be able to state our case and be victorious."
Gusman says tens of millions of dollars in new prison facilities will soon open and will make a big difference at OPP.
"We're on the verge of really transforming this whole facility, a facility that I inherited that was substandard, outdated," Gusman said.
Gusman inherited the prison facilities from Charles Foti, who spent 30 years as Orleans Parish sheriff. Foti is now running to get back his old job.
Foti said he takes offense to the notion that the problems at the jail started on his watch.
"I have been inspected by the federal government, by the Department of Justice and passed with flying colors," said Foti. "The problems are not the building, the problem is management. The problem is how you treat people."
Foti said the sheriff's office under Gusman is a disgrace.
"This is a proud office," Foti said. "I want to see that restored. I will repeat, I fixed it once and I can fix it again."
"That's the past," Gusman said. "This is the future. We need to keep moving in the right direction. Now's not the time to turn back."
Eyewitness News Political Analyst Clancy DuBos said the sheriff's race could be too close to call.
"I think the incumbent Sheriff Gusman would be a slight favorite, mostly because he is the incumbent," said DuBos. "The city has an African American voting majority and he has a lot more money on hand than former Sheriff Foti. But, on the issues and on the records, I think it's a toss up. Both men will have a lot of things to say about their opponent and each man has some baggage that he brings to this campaign."
Orleans School Board Member Ira Thomas and lawncare business owner Quentin Brown also qualified to run against Gusman. State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, is still considering the race.