If I still lived in my beloved New Orleans, I would vote for Michael Bagneris for mayor later this month, and I hope those who value my judgment will consider doing likewise.

I write this not as a professional journalist — having not “covered” the race like a professional and not having a professional “disinterestedness” (not the same thing as lack of interest) that allows me ethically to comment even as an opinion journalist — but instead I write as a native of and lover of New Orleans and as a longtime observer of Bagneris after meeting him while I served as Managing Editor of Gambit in 1990-91.

I truly think Bagneris is the man for the moment, the thoughtful moderate who can bring people together, the leader New Orleans needs right now.

I don’t remember the exact occasion more than a quarter-century ago for the Bagneris comments that first attracted my approval, but I remember very well the gist of what he said. Some issue had come up that led most black politicians in New Orleans to begin blaming some incident or ongoing situation on racism. Bagneris, alone, spoke up to the contrary. He said that while racism still exists and must be combated, the the then-current situation in the news (whatever it was) was not primarily a result of racism. He said, quite bravely, that some of his fellow politicians were, in effect, race-baiting, and that it was serving to divide rather than united the city. He then went on to offer insightful analysis of what was really occurring and thoughtful suggestions to help make it better.

I wish I could remember the exact situation. But I do clearly remember the impression he made on me. It was quite a good one.

And, in just two or three subsequent social occasions when I had a chance to talk to him, I remained impressed. He just seemed like the proverbial “good guy.” Approachable, honest, smart.

Ever since then, I’ve watched Bagneris’ career from afar. He has continued to impress me as thoughtful, solid, and well-intentioned.

Four years ago, when he ran for mayor against Mitch Landrieu, Bagneris was absolutely right to warn that Landrieu was allowing a dangerous attrition in the police force and risking a serious rise in crime. By now, it is clear Bagneris was right. Landrieu’s record on that front is atrocious, and it stemmed both from bad policy choices and bad management.

Bagneris, in this campaign, remains ultra-focused on the issue of crime fighting. As a judge, he certainly has had plenty of occasion to see the tragic results of bad crime policy, and to develop a wise determination to reverse the trend and make our streets safer again.

And he can do it while drawing whites and black together in common cause. He can do it in a tough-minded way, but without the obnoxious, heavy-handed vindictiveness Mitch Landrieu has shown (especially in his second term) against anybody who somehow runs afoul of his policy choices or political ambitions.

Michael Bagneris is a good man. I believe he will be a very, very good mayor. As somebody whose heart will always belong to the Crescent City, I wish I could cast a vote for him. As a citizen of the Gulf Coast, an entire region whose civic health is affected by the civic health of New Orleans, I can and do root for his victory, and urge my friends in New Orleans to help him achieve it.

Quin Hillyer