Thursday, December 12, 2013

Suddenly the other teams all showed up

I mentioned yesterday that I've been a crappy blogger lately.  Sometimes that actually works in one's favor.  Late last week when I started to write about the qualifying for the 2014 municipal elections, the whole thing was about how positively boring this race was shaping up to be.

The Mayor was (and, of course, still is) steamrolling everyone in the so called money primary. More importantly, he was running virutually unopposed. His only announced challenger at the time was the underfunded and relatively weak local NAACP chapter president Danatus King.

This was a concerning circumstance. What the hell had happened to our city?  Eight years ago we managed to field 20 mayoral candidates.  I still get around this town well enough to know we aren't running low on crazy people and suspicious characters.  If Mitch's money machine is going to scare away all the credible candidates, that doesn't mean we can't throw in a few wild cards.  Where is Kimberly Buter nowadays? (Not Disneyland, apparently.)  Where is Manny "Chevrolet" Bruno? The times, they are still quite troubled.   We've spent the better part of 2013 fretting about the changing nature of "what it means to be a New Orleanian" If we don't even know how to get a laugh out of an election anymore, then maybe the times are more troubled than we thought.

Mayor Landrieu, long an enthusiast of Orwellian political slogans, ("One City One Voice") stayed true to form tagging his official qualifying TwitPic Wednesday morning with "#OneTeam"

I can't say enough how disturbing this is to me. If there's only one team, is there any point to even watching the game?  If there's only one voice in government, are we really still participating in a democracy? If there's only one shade of red, how will Jackie Clarkson know which blazer to wear each day of the week?

Luckily that feeling began to change a bit this week as the rest of the program began to fill out. The biggest news was the announcement Wednesday that Judge Michael Bagneris was resigning his seat on the bench presumably to run for Mayor. As of the end of the day Thursday, Bagneris still hadn't qualified but he probably needed some time to get his #OneOtherTeam together.

But before the Bagneris announcement, things were already starting to liven up.  First, we learned that District C Councilwoman Kristin Palmer was taking her decibel meter and going home.  Because Palmer's decision came so close to qualifying time, many observers wondered if perhaps something was up.  "What is up?" they asked.  Palmer responded in the universal language of, I am telling you some meaningless bullshit right now.
Gisleson Palmer acknowledged eyebrows arch any time an elected official uses "family reasons" as explanation for dropping out of public office. But she offered compelling evidence: Two of her three daughters could start college in the next few years and they have suggested that she can jump back into campaigning once they are out of the house.
Yes I'm sure that right smack in the middle of the Holiday angst and stress is exactly the time of year when we all wish we could spend even more time with our families.  Or maybe something else happened. Palmer had already drawn a fairly strong opponent in Nadine Ramsey. According to Christopher Tidmore, though it was thought Palmer still held the general advantage, the campaign would have been a trial.

Palmer still enjoyed significant support in the Vieux Carre, Marigny, and gentrifying portions of Tremé, Bywater, and Algiers Point, so still would have proven a strong re-election contender. Just not one without peril. Palmer would have had to convince suburban Algiers voters who cast a ballot for Jeff Arnold’s father Tom four years ago to back her, while still maintaining at least a portion of the African-American vote that carried her to victory against another white candidate. (She’s a Democrat. Tom Arnold’s a Republican, unlike his State Rep. son.)

Palmer could win, but in a bitter, expensive battle that would leave her campaign indebted for years. Meanwhile, her daughters are finishing high school in the next two years and will be starting college. Palmer has said openly that she might return to politics at that point, lending credence to her claim that she wanted to spend more time with her kids.

And time is on her side. Right now, the seat if 58 percent African-American. At current rates of gentrification and in-migration, though, the historic parts of District “C” are transforming. Gentrification is bringing in wealthier and more Caucasian voters, exactly Palmer’s base. Treme, the first Faubourg for “free men of color”, may become a white majority neighborhood in five years if current trends continue, according to some observers.

Moreover, Algiers as a whole is growing less Black, if more multiracial, more Vietnamese and more Hispanic. That benefits a moderate white Democrat like Palmer. After all, there is a history of popular politicians returning to the Council from the West Bank after years away. Jackie Clarkson stands as living proof.
So maybe we'll look for a Kristin Palmer comeback in a few years when she's a bit more rested and her district is maybe a little less... tan.

It's interesting to note here that Tidmore's read on demographic trends in Algiers seems different from Allan Katz's and Danae Colombus's interpretation.
Even after State Rep. Jeff Arnold decided not to make the race (he accepted a senior position with FNBC Bank), by all accounts Kristin would have had a tough challenger in Nadine Ramsey, who is very popular with female African-American voters. The demographics in Algiers had changed since Katrina. Algiers’ African-American voters and consultants are flexing their muscles. The recent victory by newly elected Traffic Court Judge Steven Jupiter is a prime example.
I wonder what explains this variance.  My best guess is that where Tidmore sees Algiers becoming, "more multiracial"  Katz and Columbus see that as a point of strength for African American candidates more than anything else.  Or maybe that's not  the explanation at all.

In any event, Katz and Columbus point to something else no one else mentions.
But that might not have been the only reason Kristin got out. Another factor that might have impacted Kristin’s decision was the fact that the AFL-CIO was planning to spend a lot of money to defeat Kristin Palmer. AFL-CIO President Tiger Hammond said that the AFL-CIO leadership agreed to target Palmer because she was in their words “anti-union.” “We were going to target her just like we targeted Austin Badon in his race against James Gray,” said Hammond. “We had planned phone banks, signs, and outreach to union members. We ran an effective campaign against Badon and knew we could be effective against Palmer,” Hammond explained. “It’s not cheap, but it works.”
Kind of irksome that Katz and Columbus don't ask Hammond to elaborate on the specific policy beef with Palmer.  Or maybe they did but decided it wasn't relevant. That might have been interesting to know more about. Oh well. I'm pretty sure it didn't have anything to do with her not spending enough time with her family.

As for Jackie Clarkson, her family is grown enough to take care of itself now. So why not just keep on keeping on? Seems like they don't really want to deal with her anyway.
Saying she'd been "drafted back into service," New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson announced this afternoon she would be running for the District C seat, which she's held twice before. She is currently an at-large member of the council and term limited, and had announced earlier this year that she planned to retire when her term was up in 2014.

Clarkson had planned to stay home and care for her husband Buzz, but got back in the race at the urging of Mayor Mitch Landrieu when the current District C representative, Kristin Gisleson Palmer, announced last week she would not run for a second term. After Landrieu's urging, Clarkson said, she spent the weekend talking to her family — and that Buzz and her five children all urged her to run for office again.
Looks like Mitch needed someone to on his #OneTeam in this seat and decided to trot out the old war horse one more time. Or maybe Jackie just decided to come back in order to show that elevator who is boss. (This could literally be true since the future of the entire City Hall building including its elevators may be at stake in this election.)  Whatever her reasons, lovers of good political pageantry welcome Jackie back to the stage this one last time.

We're also welcoming back Cynthia Willard-Lewis.  She's running again for her old District E council seat against an incumbent she endorsed in the last election. But despite being a sometime ally of the Mayor's and an acknowledged Friend Of Jackie, it doesn't appear as though she's on the #OneTeam this time out
The event also dashed a bit of cold water on the nascent campaign of Cynthia Willard-Lewis, the former councilwoman from District E, who will announce on Thursday she is challenging the freshman incumbent in District E, James Gray. Willard-Lewis is a longtime ally of Landrieu's, but in a conversation after Clarkson made her announcement, Landrieu said he would be endorsing Gray rather than Willard-Lewis. "Cynthia and I are friends," he said, "but this is about results rather than friendship."

Clarkson intends to remain neutral in the District E race. She said she was supporting, if not endorsing, all the incumbents in the council race, but when asked specifically about Gray, she hesitated. "I mean, I'm supporting the incumbents whom I've worked with for a long time," she said.
Perhaps feeling a little bit spurned by all this, Cynthia was taking shots at Gray on the very first day of campaigning.
She opened her campaign earlier this week by explaining sharply why she is trying to oust a councilman she endorsed for the seat only last year, pointing to the slow pace of development in New Orleans East and the 9th Ward and saying, “I had high hopes for our councilman, but I know we must make a change and we can do better.”

Gray defended his relatively brief tenure in an interview on Wednesday, mentioning the new Wal-mart coming to New Orleans East, as well as a planned Office of Motor Vehicles location and improvements to Joe Brown Park. “She needs to look around,” Gray said.
And we thought this going to be boring.  There are already plenty of twisty plots for us to follow, not only in the council races but also in the coroner's race where Frank Minyard's assistant is running against him for some reason.
In the coroner’s race, the 84-year-old incumbent drew an unexpected challenge from his second-in-command. Rouse said he had not cleared his candidacy with Minyard before tossing his hat in the ring, though he said he had talked to the coroner months earlier about running. He said he hadn’t returned a call from Minyard as of Wednesday evening.

“How it will shake out with my current employment and boss I don’t know,” Rouse said. “It will be an interesting conversation.”
Minyard also faces a likely challenge from Dwight McKenna who, in a previous attempt at this office, put out one of the wackiest campaign ads in recent memory.

And of course there's the Sheriff's election where everyone expected trouble anyway. Marlin Gusman has been the Mayor's highest profile nemesis during his first term as the two have fought publicly over the cost of federal consent decree reforms at Orleans Parish Prison.  Although things have cooled down recently, it's not surprising to see the #OneTeam enter a challenger here.

While Landrieu hasn't made an official endorsement, he has close ties to Charles Foti, who is attempting to do one of those once and future king things.
Foti is a cousin of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has feuded with Gusman in recent months over the cost of the jail's federal consent decree. So far, Landrieu remains neutral in the race, and he and Gusman reached a temporary (and tenuous) budget accord in October.
Another notable entry here is Quentin Brown.  Brown made a name for himself when he ran for City Council in 2006 as a frustrated Post-Katrina Everyman Comic Relief type of candidate.  Brown's campaign signs that year were homemade posters scrawled in permanent marker with slogans like, "No More Bullshit" and "I Care About U"

Quentin Brown

I only took the time to get one photo of those.  Maybe he'll bring them back. Or maybe they were just of a moment in time we need not re-visit.

Speaking of which, I had read earlier that 2010 Mayoral candidate Comedian/activist Jonah Bascle was considering a challenge to District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry although "as far as he knows, Guidry has done a decent job representing her district."

Other than that, the final day of qualifying tomorrow will pretty much just be about waiting for Bagneris.  Well.. that and waiting to see what Nick Saban does but that was pretty much a given before the week began.

Update: Bagneris made time to talk to the media today at his home... or maybe he just listened.
In what seemed like a clear preview of campaign themes Bagneris will be employing in the next few weeks, his campaign manager pointed out, “Judge Bagneris has spent the past 20 years perfecting the art of listening.”

“That’s going to be a tremendous quality for someone who is the mayor of this city,” Buisson continued. “To be able to listen to people from all walks of life and what their concerns are.”
Oh dear I hope he's got something better than that up his sleeve. On the other hand, it sort of recalls Sidney Barthelemy's 1986 reelection campaign slogan, "Quietly Getting the Job Done"  Obviously some local consultant believes voters don't want to put up with too much noise coming out of their candidates. 

In that case, now would be a good time to be in the designer ear plug business.

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