People Tell You That You Are Losing Weight And You Don’t Care: Politics and the Mayoral Election in New Orleans

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06/01/2006

Seventh & Eleventh Wards & Orleans Parish, New Orleans

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad

This past Saturday’s election was as colorful as the primary–Just with fewer candidates. Scholars will probably dissect Mitch Landrieu’s loss for the next several months by analyzing black versus white voting patterns and the numbers from each precinct along with the fact that it was a beautiful day for a stroll to the polls and then, perhaps, they will count the number of busses that brought people from distant lands to cast their ballots.

They will be wasting their time postulating and pondering their theories. Mitch Landrieu lost the election on his own accord. That, I will describe towards the closing of this email.

Politics can be much like an addiction to heroin. Once it is injected into your veins, you cannot seem to get away from it, nor do you want to. It seems that nothing else in the world matters. As you pound the pavement, day after day, you do not allow anything to stand in your way. You are invincible. Sleeping becomes something that you do when you can no longer stand straight or speak coherently, and eating becomes an obligation, a way to avoid the light-headedness that makes you trip upon minute sidewalk cracks. People tell you that you are losing weight and you don’t care. When you are in the political arena you are “… dancing with Mr. Brownstone … he keeps knocking, he won’t leave [you] alone.”

Comparing an addiction to heroin to the penchant that some people have for politics perhaps sheds light on the perennial politician. It also explains, to a degree, why men sell their souls, integrity and, eventually, their convictions simply to remain within the game. Politics is a complex mixture of art and science, talents and drives, and, above all, money.

My initial experience in politics, though I did not realize it at the moment, came back in November when I first distributed my thousand flyers in the Quarter. On that solitary day, it was as if I had pricked my veins for the first time. I was hooked. Within less than two months I decided to run for office.

Sometime after April 22nd I awoke and realized that the primary election had passed. My trip was over and I was standing around pondering how an entire five months elapsed without me even noticing. Moreover, I was lost. The month of May had arrived; a birthday was upon me. There were still movies in the theaters and songs on the radio. I had come down — and damn me if I did not voraciously crave being back in the political den, where neither sleep deprivation nor the beating sunlight prevented me from that exhilarating high obtained while engaging the opponent. I could not stand idly watching on the sidelines.

I considered campaigning for someone — anyone — just for the sake of being on the streets and working the people. Around April 25th Nagin’s people called me and asked whether or not I would endorse Ray. I respectfully declined and stated that I would remain neutral. Some friends close to me strongly suggested that I endorse Mitch. I was reluctant, but at the same time it appeared to be the smart thing to do.

Within this same period of time, I had met with a few of the other former candidates and corresponded with still more. I had begun to get bad vibes about Mitch and the way he approached encouraging the other candidates to endorse him. That, combined with the comment from someone close to Landrieu’s campaign that I “wasn’t worth Mitch’s time”, solidified my belief that Mitch was not only arrogant but also temperamental. I began to question how he would handle impasses over larger civic issue if he treated his former opponents so poorly.

I began to look at the money trail. Mitch was out-raising Ray nearly 7 dollars to 1. Something about that number bothered me to the core.

On the eve of May 1st, I couldn’t sleep. I got up and drafted a single page of reasons why Landrieu was bad for New Orleans. Suddenly it was November again and I had a list, which by morning, I had revised, and then with the few remaining dollars I had, made 1000 photocopies. That Monday evening I was back out in the African-American neighborhoods making sure that these people were going to vote, and vote for the right man. I told no one, not even my closest friends, what I was doing.

Here I was, once again by myself in the precincts of the seventh ward, on the orange sidewalks that reflected the last heat of the day, stomping up the front porches of wretched, dilapidated houses and engaging whomever I met. But it was a bit different this time. A few people actually knew my name. When I told them I finished ninth out of twenty- two I sounded a bit credible (I didn’t mention that I only received 114 votes). I was offered few beers along the way as we argued, traded stories and laughed. All the while under the creeping May humidity we all seemed to understand that, amid the sting of mosquitoes and the buzz-sawing locust orchestrations in the live oaks, the fate of the City was at stake. Most of those who I spoke with were going to vote for Ray with or without my request. Those who told me that Ray “wasn’t one of them,” found themselves having to answer whether or not Mitch was. The hardest thing to convince the people of was the fact that this “white boy” was out there without having been asked, but guts triumphed over that question in their eyes.

For a week, each night, for three hours until the streetlights flickered on, I wandered the seventh and eleventh wards and sat on sideways sinking stoops of homes where everyone congregated while the paint continued to peel, and the hole from last summer’s stray gunshot rotted a bit larger, to drink beer, shoot dice and smoke cigarettes (and probably do more than I wanted to know about). The purple hue of the sky was my only cue to get back to my car without any further B.S.’ing

Meanwhile, other developments were occurring among those who were Mitch’s presumed allies. One by one they began to endorse Ray Nagin. This was out of the ordinary, but knowing how Mitch was treating people, I believed that the endorsements were logical.

By May 15th, I had drafted a letter to the Times-Picayune endorsing Ray and outlining my reasons for doing so. This was a calculated risk on my part; I was pretty certain that the Picayune would ignore my letter (which they did) but if they had chosen to publish the endorsement I would have a few friends mad at me. Those friends of mine in Orleans Parish, I suggested that they vote for Ray.

I cannot say that my campaigning for Ray amounted to anything. It makes no difference other than the fact that I had fun walking around and talking to the black voters. What made the difference for Ray were the three endorsements which he picked up as a result of Mitch’s arrogance. Rob Couhig, Tom Watson and Virginia Boulet all came out and endorsed Ray Nagin.

Now, let us look at the numbers. Boulet, Watson and Couhig represented 13,918 votes. If they were able to bring 50% of those votes over to Ray Nagin that would add 6,959 votes to his tally. Nagin defeated Landrieu by 5,329 votes. In order for Ray to defeat Mitch by one vote Nagin needed 1,631 of the 13,918 votes represented by Watson, Couhig and Boulet. I believe that it is reasonable to state that the three endorsements that Landrieu threw away cost him at least 1,631 votes and the election. Mitch Landrieu can blame no one else but himself for his loss. He blew the election through his own arrogance. All he had to do was be humble for a minute or two and it may have meant the difference between winning and losing–and with this understanding of how and why Mitch lost, I feel much more comfortable with Ray behind the executive desk at City Hall.

For me the ride is over. I am working in Kenner doing a bunch of Civil Law Notary work for whatever that’s worth.

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