1986 New Orleans mayoral election

← 1982 February 1, 1986 and March 1, 1986 1990 →
Hillary Rodham Clinton Health Care Trip to New Orleans 1993 - New Orleans Mayor Sidney J Barthelemy 03.png
William Jefferson, official photo (cropped).jpg
Candidate Sidney Barthelemy Bill Jefferson Sam LeBlanc
Party Democratic Democratic
First-round vote 53,961 62,333 40,963
First-round percentage 33% 39% 25%
Second-round vote 93,050 67,680
Second-round percentage 58% 42%

Mayor before election

Ernest Morial

Elected Mayor

Sidney Barthelemy

The New Orleans mayoral election of 1986 resulted in the election of Democrat Sidney Barthelemy as mayor.


Elections in Louisiana—with the exception of U.S. Presidential and Congressional elections—follow a variation of the open primary system. Candidates of any and all parties are listed on one ballot; voters need not limit themselves to the candidates of one party. Unless one candidate takes more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, a run-off election is then held between the top two candidates, who may in fact be members of the same party. In this election, the first round of voting was held on February 1, 1986, and the runoff was held on March 1.



The election campaign began in earnest after voters rejected a charter amendment which would have allowed Dutch Morial to run for a third term. This came after a failed attempt in 1983 to remove the two-term limit completely from the charter. The two-term limit was placed in the city charter adopted in 1961.

Early in the primary campaign, polls showed Barthelemy with a 21 point lead over Jefferson, but Jefferson's endorsement by Morial and the support of Morial's political organization LIFE enabled him to take much of Barthelemy's support in the black community. Later, though, Morial's endorsement hurt Jefferson in the runoff as white voters overwhelmingly chose the opponent of 'the Morial candidate.'

Barthelemy spent 1.7 million on the campaign; Jefferson spent 1.3 million.


Primary, February 1

Candidate Votes received Percentage of votes cast
William J. Jefferson 62,333 38.6%
Sidney Barthelemy 53,961 33.4%
Sam LeBlanc 40,963 25.2%
Rudy Lombard 3721 2.4%
Terry Hardy 373 0.2%
Ben Rauch 278 0.2%

Jefferson led in most majority black precincts, taking almost 70% of the black vote. Barthelemy won only about 20% of the black vote. While LeBlanc got slightly over half the white votes, Barthelemy also did well in white neighborhoods and so LeBlanc was unable to make the runoff.

Runoff, March 1

Candidate Votes received Percentage of votes cast
Sidney Barthelemy 93,050 58%
Bill Jefferson 67,680 42%

In the runoff, the big question was where Sam LeBlanc's white voters would go. Though LeBlanc didn't make an endorsement, most white voters switched to Barthelemy in the runoff. Barthelemy got 86% of white voters and 30% of black voters; while Jefferson received most black votes and got minimal white support.

Significance of the election

The election was a milestone in many respects. 1986 marked the first time in which the runoff featured two black candidates. It was also the first time that the majority of the voting population (51%) was African-American. The city's white electorate became swing voters; the combination of part of the African-American electorate and white voters won Barthelemy the runoff. Unlike his two immediate predecessors Moon Landrieu and Dutch Morial - who were first elected by a combination of a minority of white voters and an overwhelming proportion of the black electorate - Barthelemy won election against a candidate most blacks preferred by appealing to the vast majority of white voters, a strategy which was successfully duplicated by Ray Nagin against Richard Pennington in the 2002 election.


Preceded by
1982 mayoral election
New Orleans mayoral elections Succeeded by
1990 mayoral election