For the last several years, New Orleans has been working to bill itself to the movie industry as the “Hollywood South.” Yet with a wide-open mayor’s race to replace the term-limited and oft-investigated C. Ray Nagin on the horizon for next February, New Orleans might be bringing an unwanted side effect from its California courtship: celebrity-driven circus elections.
New Orleans’ slow recovery process has been nothing short of an absurd tragedy. Big business has been given the red-carpet treatment while basic social services are tossed to the cutting room floor.
And now with its 2010 mayoral elections, post-Katrina New Orleans is holding an open-casting call. Will an A-lister sacrifice a luxurious lifestyle to stay on-location for four challenging years? Or is this the role that only an undiscovered no-name can play?
Let’s take a look at some headshots:
1. Karen Carter Peterson
You may remember the current speaker pro tem of the Louisiana legislature from such losing electoral efforts as her embarrassing 2006 defeat at the hands of then-indicted and now-convicted former Congressman “Dollar” Bill Jefferson. Nonetheless, she has a big network of potential donors to tap and hails from one of the only political machines still-standing after Katrina and a series of indictments took out the others. An undeclared candidate, she could just as easily opt to take another crack at the Louisiana second Congressional seat.
Pros: Experience, electoral machine, citywide name recognition
Cons: Experience, electoral machine, citywide name recognition
2. Brad Pitt
Perhaps victims of a clever T-shirt marketing campaign, New Orleanians have put more “Brad Pitt for Mayor” signs in their windows than for any other candidate. Pitt is building more homes in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward than anyone else and can, for some reason, more easily obtain meetings with Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders than the current mayor. He recently told Ann Curry of Today, "I'm running on the gay marriage, no religion, legalization and taxation of marijuana platform. I don't have a chance." Hmm, actually that might play pretty well.
Pros: Did you see that platform?
Cons: Meet Joe Black
3. John Georges
Georges, a self-made billionaire who capitalized on the legalization of poker machines, is an old friend of lame-duck Mayor Nagin; the two used to own a now-defunct minor league hockey team together. Georges recently ran for governor of Louisiana as an independent but failed to crack 20 percent of the vote. He could be a major threat because of his vast personal wealth and his past willingness to use it. There are rumors he’s prepared to dump $10 million of his own money into the race, if in fact he ever declares his candidacy. However, it’s pretty tough to emerge from a lifetime of involvement in New Orleans politics and the gambling industry without more than a few big-mouthed enemies.
Pros: Big league campaign coffers, name recognition, ambition
Cons: Minor league policy experience, big business ties, a consummate insider
4. Austin Badon
One of only three candidates to actually declare their intention to seek the mayor’s office, the young state representative has hired some big guns to get him elected. Nagin’s team of campaign consultants also happens to have managed to pick every mayoral winner for last couple of decades. Now they’re in Badon’s corner, and his political stances against organized labor and for school vouchers indicates that he might be looking to recreate the Nagin’s bizarre and clearly ineffective coalition of African Americans and racist industrial magnates.
Pros: Young, charismatic
Cons: Nagin’s unpopularity rating stands at roughly 80 percent; his electoral coalition wouldn’t appear to be one worth emulating.
5. James Perry
Another officially declared candidate and relative youngster, Perry directs a nonprofit organization that fights housing discrimination. He’s also the only candidate with a functioning campaign headquarters and seems to be going to the mat to win young Obama-inspired voters. His use of online social media also reflects a degree of ingenuity that makes other candidates look like dinosaurs. However, there is no precedent in New Orleans for insurgent progressive candidates. Having never directed a staff of more than a baker’s dozen or so and with little campaign cash on-hand, it seems as though Perry is in for a major uphill climb.
Pros: Progressive policy stands, track record fighting in the non-profit trenches
Cons: Total absence of money, name recognition, experience, mainstream legitimacy
6. Carl Weathers
In what has to be a well-executed joke, a campaign Web site popped up touting the candidacy of New Orleans-native Carl Weathers, perhaps better known as Apollo Creed or for his hilarious cameos in Arrested Development. Though not known for any post-Katrina advocacy, his campaign Web site touts some strong bona fides: “Carl Weathers has nothing to hide. If Carl Weathers wants to go to Hawaii, Carl Weathers logs on to expedia.com and buys a round-trip ticket to Hawaii. He doesn't let some company the city does business with foot the bill. He's a celebrity; he can't be bribed.”
Pros: Hilarious Web site
Cons: Umm … I don’t want to get punched in the face by the former world champ.
7. Rob Couhig
If he’s not the Rush Limbaugh of New Orleans, he’s the Sean Hannity. This talk-radio host and perpetual candidate speaks to a large constituency of disillusioned white voters. Odds that he’ll poison yet another mayoral election are high. His role in helping to reelect Nagin to a second term in 2006 is emblematic of how complicated the racial dynamics in politics are in New Orleans. Faced with the choice of the white Mitch Landrieu and the black Nagin, Couhig implored his listeners to reelect Nagin, in no small part due to Couhig’s obvious bitterness from when Landrieu’s father, Moon, desegregated the New Orleans civil service in the 1970s.
Pros: Not applicable
Cons: Take your pick
8. Warren Riley
The unpopular superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department has said he won’t run, but political insiders have indicated he still might. Given the ongoing FBI investigations into wanton NOPD brutality, long-standing insinuations about Riley’s own integrity as he came through the force and a local crime rate that makes Baltimore and Detroit look like rural Iceland, it’s hard to imagine what would compel him to run for political office. Maybe he’s Rob Couhig’s pick.
Pros: Pleading the fifth
Cons: Busy committing crimes
9. Edwin Murray
The third and final officially declared candidate is a respected veteran of local politics. He currently serves in the Louisiana Senate and has been courting the favor of some local developers. Though respected among older African-American voters, it’s unclear whether or not he can differentiate himself in any appreciable way to either raise money or connect with voters. He has no campaign Web site or campaign infrastructure, which doesn’t bode well for a long shot.
Pros: Rare experienced politician without history of ethics complaints
Cons: Snore! The guy’s a bore!
10. Arnie Fielkow
The current city council president has been rumored to be both definitely in or definitely out so many different times over the last year that he probably is truly undecided at this point. The former Saints football executive has been somehow able to keep his head above a lot of the shrill acrimony that has characterized the city council over the last few years. He has beefed up his staff recently, perhaps foreshadowing a run for higher office, but some have said that he’s considering a run against David Vitter for the U.S. Senate. Though he’s come to represent the most powerful in-house opposition to Mayor Nagin, he’s been largely ineffective when he’s tried to advance his own agenda.
Pros: One of the few well-liked politicians in town
Cons: Perceived as spineless at times, may not be able to withstand a negative campaign
11. Irvin Mayfield
The jazz great has been slowly moving into politics over the last several years. When he isn’t blowing the trumpet, he’s running the library system. Though beloved all over town, it’s unclear whether or not his popularity can transfer to the political arena. He’s a very close friend of Nagin, and those apparently floating his name for office are some of Nagin’s most loyal corporate backers.
Pros: He’s just so cool.
Cons: Possible Manchurian candidate of sorts.
12. Helena Moreno
This former TV anchor has been called the Sarah Palin of New Orleans. But she can’t be that bad. Can she? Her first attempt to run for office, U.S. Congress, ended disastrously when she was disposed of easily by “Dollar” Bill Jefferson. When you can’t beat the guy who stashed $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer, you’re probably not mayoral material.
Pros: TV good looks
Cons: No experience, no discernable policy knowledge
13. Manny Chevrolet
This local comedian has run for office once before on the slogan “Troubled now, more than ever.” His campaign poster prominently features a martini glass next to his name. He might be the front-runner actually.
Pros: Those posters
Cons: He’s a literally a joke
14. Roy Glapion Jr.
A civil engineer, Glapion is the brother of Desiree Glapion Rogers, the White House Social Secretary. His family is royalty in the local African-American community, but he’s never been in the public spotlight, let alone in bare-knuckle politics. It’s hard to know whether or not his interest in running is sincere, but because of family, he could raise a lot of money fairly quickly.
Pros: Untarnished reputation, famous family
Cons: Lacks record, totally unknown political positions
In a city facing such pressing short-term and long-term needs, the next mayor is the most important New Orleanians have ever elected. That the race seems more likely to devolve into a Kafka-esque disaster than a serious policy debate is troubling but unsurprising to New Orleanians. Who needs a mayor when there are Mardi Gras costumes to sew?
Pros: The most unique city in the hemisphere.
Cons: Deal with them.
Odds: As long as they’ve ever been
Eli Ackerman is a writer and organizer in New Orleans who is currently working on the campaign to save Charity Hospital. Starting this fall, he'll be blogging the mayoral race for The New Orleans Public Record.