New Orleans: Election Day

by

04/27/2006

New Orleans

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad

Election day in New Orleans has always possessed a flare unlike anywhere else in the world. My first recollections of how crazy election day can be come from 1989. Nothing, however, topped 1991, when Edwin Edwards and David Duke competed against each other in the run-off. Nothing, that is, until Saturday’s semi-circus atmosphere outside the condensed polling locations.

My polling location was, before the storm, my neighbor’s garage. A voting venue such as a neighbor’s garage was not only convenient, it was also quaint. You would walk a few blocks and then down your neighbor’s driveway to enter a room where motor oil was stationed on a shelf next to the shelf with the laundry detergent, above the washer and dryer next to the parked bicycles. Hanging on the back wall was a garden hose or two, a spare tire may be found lurking upright in a corner and left over lumber had been laid on the rafters above your head.

On the other side was the voting booth and a table where the poll commissioners, who all knew your name and family history, sat ready with their voter’s log. Due to the flood my polling station had been relocated to St Dominic’s church on Harrison Avenue, a block off of Canal Boulevard. The quaintness had been removed but the building served its purpose nonetheless.

Somewhere at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Canal Boulevard is a traffic light; on Saturday it was obscured by the millions of yard signs which had commandeered the intersection. The signs themselves made up a collage of which Picasso would have raved. They ranged in size from the small vertical uni-stick to the mobile billboards that roam the streets of Manhattan. Along with the signs came the “wavers.” These are the supporters of various candidates who stand on the corners shouting at you to vote for their candidate as you drive by, hoping that one just might step a little too close to the street where the mirror on your driver’s side just might bust a knuckle or two.

The intersection, being so close to a condensed polling station, afforded candidates a unique advantage this election to concentrate their “wavers” in one locale and reap this particular once-in-an-election benefit. In ordinary times during an election the intersection of Harrison and Canal would have had a handful of supporters. Saturday they were en masse by the bushels for their respective aspirant. Each was doing their own little part to drum up a last minute vote. As I slowly maneuvered my car through the crowd, I think that I may have actually witnessed a person doing backflips, but I cannot state such with absolute certainty.

After successfully navigating around the “wavers” I found a place to park and got out to walk what turned out to be about the equal distance as from my home to my neighbor’s garage. The day itself was temperate and held an electric atmospheric feel as residents milled around St. Dominic’s engaging in the political process to fulfill their civic duty to dictate the future of New Orleans. The area in the immediate vicinity of the church had not seen this much activity since well before the flooding. It was good to know that my friend Phil Nugent had been there in January replacing the trash bags and cleaning the streets in preparation for the April 22nd event.

New Orleans and the State of Louisiana pulled off this election with extreme efficiency. Everywhere you turned there was a poll monitor and someone to guide you to your polling station. If you had a question there was someone with an answer. And despite the many people who were at St. Dominic’s to vote, I was in and out in fifteen minutes.

Yes, it is an odd experience voting for yourself. Once that task was completed I made my way back to my car, through the crowd of “wavers,” without one backflipping onto the hood of my car, and then to eat lunch. By eight in the evening the whole event was over and the City of New Orleans became still as it held its breath awaiting the outcome of the past four months of worn shoe leather and hoarse debate voices.

As I made my way to a couple of election parties I was struck by how eerily quiet the City had become. I drove down Claiborne Avenue, making it over to the house of James Arey, an opponent of mine, only spotting a few cars on the road.

James Arey, as I stated above, was an opponent of mine. So was Marie Galatas, whose party I also paid a visit during the evening. These two parties were unlike what you are accustomed to seeing on television. Marie had set up chairs outside and had two televisions sitting in the back of a pickup truck. As the bugs bounced off the screens we sat on the edges of our seats observing the numbers. And in truth those numbers were not favorable to all of the hard work and time invested by most of the candidates. It was clear early on that the people of New Orleans, who had once been clamoring for change, swallowed exactly what the media was pushing down their throats — invariability. By the stroke of midnight incumbency remained the rule and the political shackles that everyone hoped to shake loose were reapplied, to New Orleans’ consternation.

I could rail on here about the media. They chose early on to narrow the field to 1/3rd of its true size. Those who had the best intentions for the City but were unable to raise the funds to amplify their voices were relegated to the back pages of the B Section of the paper when they did receive recognition for their diligence. That is how the game of politics is played. Those who can afford to run advertisements get the attention whereas those who cannot are never heard from because they are considered uncompetitive. And as we stand around wondering why American politics issues us the same people running each and every time, New Orleans shines as an example of where the system fails. No good man will ever come forward to serve the will of the people when the media immediately discounts him as insincere due to his inability to raise money.

And so a new day dawns in New Orleans with little change from the day beforehand. As the millions of signs which were once hammered into the soil of the neutral grounds are pulled up and destined for the landfill, the choice before every New Orleanian is the same as it has always been: lackluster candidates.

Jesse Jackson and his gang are now threatening to sue in Federal Court on behalf of disenfranchised voters. Personally I wish he and his merry men would stay somewhere else and spread their grief upon people who need such pain inflicted upon them. But that would be too much to ask. Hurricane Jesse is not what New Orleans needs to fan the flames of racism drummed up by the media. If he and the media had let things well enough alone race would have never become such an issue and Ray Nagin probably would not have made the run-off.

The question now remains: Was it worth the time, energy and money to get 114 votes and place ninth amongst a filed of 22? Absolutely. The answer is absolutely for a multitude of reasons. The most of important reason is that I made an impact on the process. By my candidacy I was afforded the opportunity to raise the issues that I felt were important not only to me but to those people that I had the pleasure of interacting with. On a personal level, my candidacy allowed me to grow, it allowed me to learn about myself, and I was able to discover talents that I never knew that I possessed. Above all I learned that I had at least 114 friends in New Orleans — I never knew that I had that many friends!

What must be done now is to take the talents I learned that I had and put them to use for the future benefit of New Orleans. Though I am penniless and unemployed currently I must continue onward with the fight. In the past week I wrote each member of Congress a letter requesting funding for New Orleans in accord with the duty of Congress to provide money during a National crisis to preserve the domestic tranquility the Congress swore to uphold. 535 letters is a lot of work, but it had to be done. My hope is that one member of Congress reads the letter and brings the issue to the floor — if this is done then I have accomplished my goal.

I must also work to ensure that whomever is elected to hold the office of Mayor of New Orleans holds true to their promises and works for the good of all the residents of the City. This will not be an easy task, yet I have obligated myself to such a challenge.

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