But first, the mayor’s race: Former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial called Ray Nagin’s victory “threading the needle”, and it was a remarkable political feat- Nagin, who was once the black candidate for white New Orleans, now wins with solid black support, metamorphosing from the big business candidate to the civil rights candidate. A performance, truly.
My good friend Sean Benjamin, the only founder of the Iron Rail Bookstore and Library that still is part of the collective, became obsessed with this election and has been spending his nights creating color coded maps of precinct results for all the elections in the last thirty years. Pretty weird for a guy ideologically opposed to electoral politics, but he’s had insomnia lately. Transposing the maps of the 2002 and 2006 mayoral races shows and eerie discovery- the map of precincts that had a majority of Nagin votes in 2002 are almost the exact opposite of the ones that have a Nagin majority in 2006, with the exception of parts of Gentilly and New Orleans East, which voted for Nagin both times. So essentially what this translates into is that Nagin got the white vote and the middle class black vote the first time, and this time got the majority of all the black vote and limited white support, which in this majority African-american city is what you need to win.
This is not to suggest that I supported Landrieu. Even though he might be able to get more support for New Orleans from Washington (the best reason to vote for him), his “connections” made many of us uneasy. We’ve had enough political dynasties in Louisiana, and enough insider politics.
Regardless, despite the big headlines I was paying more attention to the council races. The wicked witch of Algiers is no more- Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson was defeated by former New Orleans Saints manager Arnie Fielkow fifty-four to forty-six percent for the free Council-at-large seat. Since Clarkson doesn’t seem much interested in state politics and is old enough that she probably won’t run for council again in four years, we can say goodbye to Jackie. Highlights of Jackie’s last term: removing the benches from Jackson square, trying to make street performance illegal, and blocking Nagin’s list of trailer sites for evacuees in December. Bon voyage, Jackie.
But I’ve said enough bad things about Jackie Clarkson, and now that she is history, politically speaking, I feel the need to mention her good traits. No, seriously. Jackie has been a big supporter of historic preservation and also in keeping monstrously big hotels out of the French Quarter. Old timers who I’ve spoken to also mention how she stopped the expansion of the t-shirt and souvenir shops that line Bourbon and Decatur street that former District C councilmember Troy Carter (allegedly no relation to the newly elected James Carter) allowed, thus giving us the disnified version of New Orleans that we see on those streets in the quarter.
The big shocker was that Jay Batt lost to political newcomer Shelly Midura in District A. Batt, the only republican with any real position in New Orleans city government, was a big business shill who, along with Clarkson, blocked Nagin’s trailer list in December. His campaign ads suggested that Midura was going to build a housing project in Lakeview. Batt had a big lead in the primary, but apparently even Uptown, buoyed by parts of Mid-City, had enough of him.
And, lastly, defense attorney James Carter beat Jackie Clarkson’s ally Kristen Palmer in district C. So not only do we have a dark-skinned black man on the city council now, but the candidates of the I’ve-got-mine white propertied class in this city have been sent packing, both in downtown and uptown.
I can’t contain my shock or wonder at how all this happened. It appears that the old guard is finally been removed from city government, with the most regressive members of City Council gone.
Here’s the catch- we have four new city council members who we don’t know much about. In any larger race, candidates usually have articulated platforms on at least a few major issues and a voting record to support them. But city council is the amateur night of politics, and we have only a dim idea about what Fielkow, Carter, Midura, or Stacy Head (who beat Rene Gill-Pratt in district B) actually stand for.
But more importantly, things still have not fundamentally changed here. A council composed of slightly more progressive politicians does not change the fact that on the ground progressive political organizing is still in its infancy here. In a city with weak unions in a right to work state ACORN was the only such group that had any real membership before the storm. So we may have some superficial victories, but let’s not forget that this is the shell game of electoral politics and that things will not fundamentally change without the building of strong progressive organizations, a work that is much slower.
I’m not going to let that spoil my party though. The old guard is gone. Farewell, Jackie and Jay. You guys look a lot better from the rear view mirror.