Opinion – 4/11/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Panolian: OPINIONS – John Howell Sr

 From the 4/11/06 issue of The Panolian       

Big Easy residents picking new leader

Voting in the New Orleans mayor’s race began Monday at nine satellite polling places throughout Louisiana. Election day is Saturday, April 22 and absentee ballots have been sent out all over the U.S. in an attempt to connect with this city’s diaspora.

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Incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin is thought to be one of three leading contenders among the 23 seeking the job. Ron Forman and Mitch Landreau are the other two.
Nagin became a nationally-known figure from his city’s tragic exposure during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Outside observers may underestimate Nagin, judging him from his controversial broadcast comments immediately following the hurricane and later with his "chocolate city" remarks. Yet there is still more to Nagin than his critics can dismiss.

When Nagin ran for his first term – which was his first political contest ever – he campaigned as a reformer who would clean up the patronage mess left by former Mayor Marc Morial. Nagin’s campaign appealed to New Orleans’ minority white voters, 90 percent of whom voted for him.

Now, however, many of those prominent whites have shown up as heavy donors to the campaigns of his white opponents. Nagin must find more support in this campaign from the city’s black voters. They may be more scattered and harder to reach.

Meanwhile, Forman, one of the beneficiaries of defections among white donors from the Nagin camp, has been tripped up in local television candidate debates. This is Forman’s first political undertaking and has let himself show his frustration when other candidates have baited him on live television.

Forman, a businessman, is best known for heading the Audubon Institute, which took a run-down and broke New Orleans Zoo and turned it into a world-class wildlife and tourist facility. Forman has strong support among Uptown white voters who seek the same turn-around for this poor, broken down city.

Mitch Landreau, the other beneficiary of heavy donations from former Nagin supporters, is Louisiana’s lieutenant governor, brother to U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and son of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landreau. He and his sister have both shown past success in appealing to both black and white voters.

Whoever wins this horse race will find a monstrous job awaiting. No U. S. city has ever been so devastated. Vast areas of this city remain flood-ruined, wrecked, largely uninhabited and without electricity – a description that fits block after block for miles. No U. S. city has ever faced such a monumental rebuilding task or an extended displacement of a large percentage of its population. That’s the job that these people are running for.

A published comment by The Times-Picayune publisher Ashton Phelps about the future of his newspaper is equally appropriate for the entire city:

" ‘The truth is that it’s so big, we have still not found the bottom of how life has changed for us,’ " Phelps said.

The Panolian co-owner and publisher John Howell writes about New Orleans, Panola, and the strange and mundane between there and here. Contact him at johnhowl@bellsouth.net


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