Skulduggery in the Big Easy

Sam Hanna Jr.

State Rep. Paul Hollis’ anticipated announcement that he will enter this fall’s U.S. Senate race in Louisiana certainly introduces a new wrinkle for the chattering class to contemplate.

But before we decide whether Hollis can or won’t make a difference in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, there are some rumblings in the Big Easy to keep an eye on — and we ain’t talkin’ about Carnival.  Nope. We’re talking about New Orleans politics at its best — or worst, depending on your take of what’s good or bad.  

This skulduggery involves, of course, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu; her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; the president of the United States, Barack Obama; the chairwoman of the state Democrat Party, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson; and just about every other known ne’er-do-well in Orleans Parish.

And all of these shenanigans could very well determine whether Sen. Landrieu’s core base of support — that being the black community in Orleans Parish — will stand with her when she desperately needs it later this year. Specifically, when Landrieu meets at least three Republicans — Hollis, Congressman Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness — on election day in November.

Besides voting for and continuing to defend the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, Landrieu’s primary concern — if you want to call it that — involves her brother Mitch, who has a re-election campaign of his own to run. Mayor Landrieu is being challenged by a couple of minor candidates and one formidable opponent, former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris. Bagneris is black. Though Landrieu has more than $1 million on hand to spend before the Feb. 1 election, Bagneris has had some success on the fund-raising front, picking up some $200,000 in contributions as of Dec. 23.  

Bagneris’ haul doesn’t represent a great deal of money, but it certainly points to his connections in a city where the outcome of an election isn’t historically determined by which candidate has the deepest pockets. No, relationships and coalitions matter in New Orleans.  

Race does, too.

When Landrieu was elected mayor in 2010 with some 67 percent of the vote, he was the first white mayor the city had seen since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978. Moon Landrieu, who is credited for opening the doors of city government to minorities, was succeeded by Dutch Morial, the first black mayor of New Orleans. Dutch Morial served two terms. His son, Marc, served two terms as mayor as well, in the 1990s.

A prominent player in the civil rights movement, Dutch Morial’s political apparatus extended far and wide and it included a young, bright attorney. His name, you might ask? Michael Bagneris, who served as executive counsel to Morial. 

It goes without saying that the Morials and the Landrieus have never seen eye to eye, and while the Bagneris camp has offered a host of reasons for why the former jurist chose to oppose Landrieu, they’ve played fast and loose with the truth. With all due respect.

Because the truth of the matter is the black community in New Orleans as a whole, though longtime supporters of the Landrieus, views the city as theirs. Not a white man’s city. Or as former Mayor Ray Nagin said, New Orleans is a “chocolate city.”

Evidence of that attitude surfaced when Peterson, the chairwoman of the state Democrat Party, recently said she had not decided whether she would support Landrieu or Bagneris in the mayor’s race. In other words, the leader of the state Democrat Party balked at endorsing the incumbent Democrat mayor of the largest city in the state.  

Why?

Is it because he’s white?

Though Peterson, who is black, would probably deny it, you could bet the deed to your home that race has everything to do with Peterson suddenly straddling the fence in a campaign between a white man and a black man. After all, it was Peterson who stood on the floor of the state Senate last year and proclaimed that Obama’s race was the reason Republicans opposed ObamaCare.  

Remember?

How could you forget? It was one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of the Louisiana Senate.

Yet, the situation is so fluid in New Orleans and so uncertain for Mayor Landrieu that Obama was called on to clear up matters. Or tamp down the onset of a civil war — of a different sort. 

That Obama weighed in earlier this week and declared his support for Landrieu in the mayor’s race presented a whole other set of problems for Sen. Landrieu, who has been trying in vain to distance herself from Obama with her own election on the horizon. Have you seen Sen. Landrieu’s television commercials saying she stood up to Obama and forced him to “fix” ObamaCare? Which is a lie, but who’s taking score on that front in this stage of the Senate race?

Without a doubt, Mitch Landrieu’s election in 2010, as well as the election of a majority white City Council, was made possible because the minority population in New Orleans took a dive following Hurricane Katrina. For the first time in decades, whites had the upper hand in the Crescent City.  

That has changed. Blacks enjoy the upper hand these days. And blacks, at least some of them, want to take back control of the mayor’s office and the City Council, too.

Mitch Landrieu should be re-elected mayor. He’s done a good job in a city that’s got more than its fair share of problems — economically and on the racial front.

But what price will Mitch Landrieu and Mary Landrieu pay to ensure the mayor’s re-election?

How many toes will be stepped on? Whose feelings will be hurt?

And all of it will spill over into the Senate race and could very well determine whether Sen. Landrieu secures a fourth term in office.

Meanwhile, Cassidy’s campaign for the Senate is so unimpressive that a first-term state lawmaker from St. Tammany Parish took a look at the field of candidates, didn’t like what he saw and threw his hat into the ring. Of course, it certainly helps that Hollis, just 41 years of age, is independently wealthy.  

Throw it all together in a big cast iron pot and it looks like a good gumbo. The topper, though, is all of that skulduggery in the Big Easy.

 

Sam Hanna, Jr. is publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, and he serves in an editorial/management capacity with The Concordia Sentinel and The Franklin Sun, three newspapers owned and operated by the Hanna family. Hanna can be reached by calling (318) 805-8158 or by emailing him at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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