Sunday, August 09, 2015

Rise of the technocrats

Please take the time to enjoy this review of the past decade of New Orleans politics the Advocate has put out this morning. There's a tremendous amount to digest there. The Nagin reelection should be studied closely by anyone who wants to understand Post-K tensions and contradictions quickly.
Months after the floods, Nagin found himself facing 23 challengers. It was a diverse group, but all of the well-funded ones were white, and it was clear that the coalition of white voters and middle-class black voters that secured Nagin’s victory in 2002 was falling apart.

Not that the mayor hadn’t done his best to hold it together: He stacked his Bring New Orleans Back rebuilding commission with prominent members of the business community and publicly entertained the footprint debate, widely viewed as a subterfuge to redline poor black neighborhoods and keep out their former residents.

When it was clear the coalition was no more and that many of his wealthy white supporters were writing checks to his opponents, Nagin tacked hard in the other direction. He made explicit racial appeals: His signs asked voters to re-elect “our mayor.” He told black voters in other cities that his many opponents “don’t look like us.” And he gave his infamous “chocolate city” address on the 2006 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in which he indirectly rebuked supporters of a smaller footprint, to whom he himself had granted a megaphone.

The tactic worked. Nagin tapped into a collective sense of despair felt by many black people — a feeling that they were losing the political power that they had worked generations to achieve. In beating Mitch Landrieu in the runoff, Nagin nearly ran the table among black voters, many of whom came to town from distant locales to pull the handle for him. In the runoff, Landrieu’s share of black votes was smaller than in the primary.
Of course Nagin failed to relieve the "collective sense of despair" because he was never serious about it in the first place.  And as his second term sunk deeper into a malaise dominated by corruption allegations and various outbursts of his own and our collective Id, political power continued to shift toward  more affluent whites.

There's a suggestion in the article that this is can be understood as a "post-racial" dynamic. But really it is post-political.  The emerging New New Orleans is less engaged at the grass roots. The expectation is that the technocrats know what's best and challenges to authority are seen more as annoyances. The new normal is a more stratified power structure than ever before hidden under a gilding of "decorum" and "best practices" and such.

The person who best picks up on this is former city councilman Oliver Thomas. Thomas is sort of the Jimmy Carter of local politics. He's become a much better ex-politician than he was an elected person. Anyway Thomas observes.
Oliver Thomas, the former City Council president whose promising political career went down in flames in 2007, when he admitted taking bribes for protecting a city contractor, is also troubled by some of what he sees.

Superficially, he said, New Orleans appears politically calm, especially in comparison with years past, when School Board meetings often turned into shouting matches and City Council meetings ran late into the evening. But there are rip currents below the placid surface.

“In New Orleans, to me, we have half-a-day politics now, with 24-hour problems,” Thomas said. “Our political officials brag that our meetings end early. Well, how can you brag about getting along when you got issues in the community? We don’t need you to get along; we need you to debate. We need you to provoke thought; we need you to challenge. ... This whole idea about decorum has duped people into believing that things are great. So what are we finding now? They’re not.”
In order to get along as a city, we need to get back to not "getting along" as well politically.   That's democracy.  And it's the thing we're missing the most.

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