Monday, February 8, 2010

The new hizzoner

In all of the hoopla leading up to the New Orleans Saints becoming world champions at the Super Bowl, there was a citywide election Saturday that set into place the officials who will lead or continue to lead New Orleans for the next four years. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2006 Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu attempted what would have been unthinkable prior to the storm: to be elected the first white mayor of New Orleans since his father, Maurice "Moon" Landrieu held that august office. The elder Landrieu, for whom the so-called "Moonwalk" at the river and Jackson Square is named, also served as President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of Health and Urban Development and is the father of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and Verna's husband. The pitched battle between incumbent Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu four years ago resulted in Nagin's re-election after an enormous campaign in which large numbers of displaced voters were bussed in from areas as far away as Atlanta and Houston. Landrieu's entry into the race seemed a gamble at the time and Nagin mustered his forces together in a well-organized campaign that put his administration back into power for another four years, but the margin of victory was hardly convincing. Landrieu fought a good and decent campaign, but lost out by a few percentage points in what was his second mayoral attempt. Nagin was still a force to be reckoned with, but his attitude with the media became strained. It wasn't long after that election that City Councilman-at-large Oliver Thomas, the heir apparent to Nagin, was swept up in a kickback scandal discovered by federal authorities as a result of another investigation. Thomas's meteoric flame out occurred over a three-day period when he resigned from city office and pled guilty to the federal indictment secured against him. Thomas is still in the federal slammer counting the days until he is released. As the media continued to pound Nagin for alleged indiscretions including a family link to a business set up to work with Home Depot and several "business" trips to Hawaii and other locales, confidence in Mayor Nagin began to wither. Some media reports suggested he had, in fact, already moved to Dallas. One of the most controversial episodes occurred when the mayor's office was requested for his 2007 calendar as part of a public records request by both WWL-TV investigative reporter Lee Zurik and the Times-Picayune. An office spokesman stated that the request could not be fulfilled because a good portion of the mayor's e-mails had been "accidentally" deleted. What followed were several months of accusations and challenges before the Louisiana Technology Council and its partners were called in to help clarify the matter. Eventually, they restored the missing e-mails and concluded that the "accidental" deletions were, in fact, deliberately done by someone with a great deal of technical savvy. The press conference LTC called to go over the affair was seen by City Hall as disloyal and grandstanding. In any event, the local branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation made sure it copied all of the missing files, but nothing yet has come of that. The lack of an incumbent made this most recent race interesting to be sure, but when Landrieu qualified at the last minute, some cried foul. Even though he had already ruled out a run in a decision last summer, the astute politician must have known that the field of candidates that had announced was weak at best and poor choices at worst. When the vote was tallied on Saturday night, Landrieu had won in the first primary by a whopping mandate of 66% in a field of 11 candidates. Political newcomer Troy Henry followed Landrieu's impressive 58,276 total with 12,275 votes. Landrieu had garnered a sizable majority of the black electorate as had his dad before him to secure the mayoralty in another race conducted with dignity and little negativity. Personally, I am looking forward to Landrieu's leadership. I've known him for a long time and respect him as a legislator, an upstanding citizen and a devotee of the arts. His administration may mark yet another turning point in New Orleans that could signal the recovery is well on its way to restoring the city to its full glory.

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