In The News › Can mayoral campaign transcend race?

Jan 12, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: City Government, Contracting, Orleans Parish

Can mayoral campaign transcend race?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
By Jarvis DeBerry
The Times-Picayune

State Sen. Ed Murray dropped his bid to become mayor in part, he says, because he feared that if he, a black elected official, were pitted against Mitch Landrieu, a white elected official, the campaign to become New Orleans’ next leader would hurt more than it would help.

Murray entered the race for mayor as the favorite black candidate — if not the favorite candidate overall — but he issued a statement after he withdrew speculating that a race that came down to him and Landrieu would probably become an “extremely racially divisive” contest “whether either of us intended it or not.”

If Murray is being honest about his reasons for bowing out of the race — that is, if he wasn’t chiefly discouraged by his polling a distant third and being hard up for cash — then he deserves praise for refusing to be a part of a race that he felt would only worsen this city’s already fractious racial climate.

But as we praise Murray let’s acknowledge his naivete. If the race for mayor of New Orleans was likely to be racially divisive with him in it, the race is just as likely to be racially divisive with him out of it. It is possible for elections to become ugly racial affairs even if the candidates are of the same color. Actually, it’s more than just possible; it is well documented.

The 2002 contest between businessman Ray Nagin and New Orleans Police Superintendent Richard Pennington was racially divisive in that Nagin’s opponents launched a broadside questioning Nagin’s racial allegiance. He was a Charity Hospital baby who went to public school and historically black Tuskegee University on an athletic scholarship, but his critics managed to re-brand him as “Ray Reagan.” Bishop Paul Morton of Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church was angry with Nagin’s pledge to sign contract reform proposed by the Bureau of Governmental Research. Morton publicly called it a “slave contract” and sent the mayor-elect a letter claiming “that the majority of the African-Americans in this city are disappointed because our candidate of choice did not win.”

There were many more hurtful, racially charged insults hurled by black people at Nagin during his first term as mayor. If you are wondering what might drive a man to use a Martin Luther King Day speech to blather on about making New Orleans chocolate again, start with Morton’s 2004 public description of Nagin as a “white man in black skin” and his accusation that he had let New Orleans become an “apartheid state.”

Such was the divisiveness we got when one black candidate defeated another. And we aren’t suddenly protected from such divisiveness now that Murray is no longer in the running. In fact, friction between black candidates Troy Henry and James Perry became clear last week when Henry, an engineer and businessman, called a press conference and said that the press has been stacking the deck against black candidates and that Perry, a civil rights attorney and fair housing advocate, agreed with his assessment. Perry called Henry’s press conference a stunt and his campaign manager Alex Morgan said, “Troy Henry does not speak for James Perry.”

And then Nagin questioned Perry’s allegiances.

“Who is running James’ campaign?” Nagin asked on WBOK radio. “Who’s behind James?” Remember, it was Nagin’s $1,000 contribution to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush that gave Nagin’s opponents the opening to call him Reagan. But now Perry is suspect because he hired Morgan, a former aide to persistent Nagin critic Councilwoman Shelly Midura (Midura is white). It’s particularly shameful for Nagin to launch such an attack given its similarity to the attacks launched against him. But an ashamed politician is a rare breed.

I can understand Murray not wanting to run for mayor. I can understand his fear of more racial acrimony.

A white candidate pitted against a black candidate, he figured, could tear this city apart. But it could very well be torn apart without him. Unless the remaining candidates and their supporters commit to running a race that appeals to our higher selves and doesn’t stoke our racial fears and paranoia.

Jan 12, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: City Government, Contracting, Orleans Parish

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