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Progressive candidate Susan Hutson wins sheriff's race, defeating incumbent Marlin Gusman

Independent police monitor Susan Hutson won the sheriff's race in New Orleans, defeating incumbent Marlin Gusman, on Dec. 11, 2021.
Ryan Nelsen
Independent police monitor Susan Hutson won the sheriff's race in New Orleans, defeating incumbent Marlin Gusman, on Dec. 11, 2021.

Election Day ended in an upset, with Susan Hutson defeating the 17-year incumbent Sheriff Marlin Gusman and becoming the first female sheriff in the history of Orleans Parish.

Hutson earned 53% of the vote with all but one precinct reporting as of 11 p.m.

At an election party at Clesi's Restaurant in Mid-City, at least 250 people were there to support the progressive candidate. When the DJ wasn't playing music or updates weren't coming through from news outlets on the bar's TV, the crowd would intermittently shout "we put the she in sheriff."

Hutson specifically thanked those who she worked alongside in her role at the independent police monitor's office.

"I stepped out on faith, quit my job and invested my savings in you," Hutson said after the results in her favor were announced.

Gusman has not had a serious competitor face him since 2014, when he easily defeated his predecessor Charles Foti, who was sheriff in the city for 30 years.

At his election party, he thanked his family in attendance and the crowd of supporters with him in Treme for his 17 years as sheriff.

"Let's look up, let's not look down," Gusman said. "Let's look ahead and not look back. Let's think about how we can be better and keep getting better. With that, thank you all very much and we're going to have fun tonight."

In the primary election, Gusman showed no animosity toward the pack of four other candidates, but once pinned solely against Hutson in the runoff, he produced several attack ads claiming Hutson is sympathetic to far-left advocates.

"I ran against a network of radical extremists who have invaded our city. These people are funding and owning my opponent, an individual who has never managed more than a dozen people," Gusman said in an advertisement.

Gusman lost control of his primary duty as sheriff, controlling the New Orleans jail, in 2016 when an independent monitor reported the facility unfit to keep prisoners. Gusman regained authority over the jail in 2020, but observers said the jail's reform has declined since then.

During his tenure, the jail has also been under a federal consent decree, which former Mayor Mitch Landrieu agreed to in 2013. Under the agreement, the city is to build a separate facility to house inmates with mental illnesses, called Phase III.

Gusman has remained adamant about the need for the facility but has found resistance from the City Council and Mayor LaToya Cantrell's office on the issue. The council refuses to allocate any money for the build and will wait for the decree to expire.

The decree requires the city to have started on the Phase III facility by the end of the year, and if the city doesn't comply, a federal judge will rule on the matter.

Hutson, an independent police monitor in New Orleans, ran a campaign based on reforming the office that has found itself steeped in controversy.

After pushing Gusman to a runoff, Hutson gained a key endorsement from District Attorney Jason Williams. The progressive official, who won his seat in a runoff against Keva Landrum in 2020, complemented Hutson on her promise to not add another jail if elected and her pledge to audit the office severely.

Williams, who endorsed the sheriff candidate weeks before the runoff Election Day, congratulated Hutson after her win.

"Susan's committed to not wasting taxpayer dollars on building a jail for people that, I mean, we have got beds right now," Williams said. "The people in New Orleans voted in their best interest today."

Susan Hutson's election party was held at Clesi's Restaurant in Mid-City on Dec. 11, 2021.
Ryan Nelsen
Susan Hutson's election party was held at Clesi's Restaurant in Mid-City on Dec. 11, 2021.

Hutson is a favorite of progressives in the city and is pledging to send deputies into high-crime areas to lower the city's crime rate. Williams said Hutson could end the cycle of generational incarceration in the city.

Hutson has not served in a law enforcement position before but said she brings a wealth of knowledge about federal consent decrees from working for the past 11 years in Orleans Parish and her experience in Los Angeles, where she also worked with the police department’s independent police monitor.

"I will transform the Sheriff's Office into one that actually follows the constitution, the laws and best practices," Hutson said.

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