Elections in Louisiana—with the exception of U.S. presidential 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% 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 was held on February 5, 1994, and the runoff was held on March 5, 1994.
State Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore Sherman Copelin, an influential leader of the Ninth Ward political organization SOUL. Copelin personally funded an expensive campaign costing over $1 million.
Given that incumbent mayor Sidney Barthelemy was barred by the city charter from running for a third term, the 1994 mayoral race was seen as one of the most wide-open races in years, with a number of high-profile candidates running. Mintz began his campaign years before the election date, and remained a front-runner throughout the lengthy campaign. After months of speculation, Dutch Morial's widow Sybil Morial decided not to run; her son, Marc Morial then entered the race as the candidate of the Morial family's LIFE organization. After Mitch Landrieu entered the race, much of the election coverage focused on the battle between two sons of former mayors.
The most prominent political issue of the campaign was New Orleans's drastically worsening crime problem, but the two leading candidates - Morial and Mintz - had similar positions on most issues. Rather than a focus on issues, the bitterly contested campaign saw a number of personal attacks, including rumors of Marc Morial's drug use. The runoff campaign was dominated by allegations that a senior campaign worker for Mintz had distributed racist fliers which questioned the religion and sexual orientation of various candidates.