In The News › TV ads are touting heroism

Mar 25, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

TV ads are touting heroism

TV ads are touting heroism
ALSO: Imaginative buzz; What friend?; Too many for TV
Saturday, March 25, 2006
By Gordon Russell and Frank Donze
Staff writers

TV commercials that attempt to spotlight politicians’ acts of heroism in the anarchy of post-Katrina New Orleans have become a staple — some might say an unfortunate one — of the current campaign.

Mayor Ray Nagin, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Audubon Nature Institute chief executive Ron Forman, among others, all have sought to score points by reminding voters that they were here, doing the Lord’s work, in the darkest of days.

But none of the mayoral contenders has gone quite as far as Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who, in a spot that began airing this week, all but suggests he was wearing a cape.

Gusman’s ad quotes heavily from a Sept. 9 letter from Burl Cain, warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, who portrays Gusman in a manner that borders on worshipful. The ad shows Gusman standing amid floodwaters in a pair of bright red shorts.

“Finally, now that the evacuation is over, we can laugh now at you in the rubber boots and short pants,” Cain wrote. “Warden Vannoy will never forget how both of you plunged into the water chest deep with a cutting torch to cut the bars so that the female prisoners could be evacuated.

“You are to be commended for your courage and for being the last man out, you and Chief Short. I will never forget your struggle that night, Thursday, I believe it was, to find shelter for your deputies. It all finally worked out.”

Cain signed off: “So many memories — enough for a lifetime.”

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LOOK AT ME! Getting noticed has proved to be most difficult for many of the 23 mayoral contenders.

As a result, some of them have been looking to manufacture their own buzz by sending supporters and reporters blanket e-mails that assess their respective performances on the campaign trail.

Not surprisingly, the grades have been glowing.

Consider a recent announcement from Virginia Boulet, which said she had “demonstrated the strength of her candidacy” at a forum sponsored by the Alliance for Good Government. That claim is followed by a transcript of Boulet’s opening remarks to the organization.

Rob Couhig went Boulet one better in a dispatch heralding his showing during the first televised debate early this month. “Most political pundits concurred,” the e-mail said, “agreeing that Couhig’s performance was the strongest of all the candidates.”

It’s left unsaid which pundits were surveyed.

Finally, there’s the e-mail from Shedrick White stating that he had a “strong showing” before the alliance. It continues: “Many in attendance stated that he was definitely the best speaker and the candidate with the best views.”

Again, the basis for White’s claim is left to the imagination.

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CAESAR RAY? There was a time when Nagin could count District C Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, now a candidate for one of two at-large seats, as one of his few friends on the council. What a difference a storm — and an election — can make.

Clarkson, who along with other council members has often griped since Hurricane Katrina that the mayor has cut them out of major decisions, took not one but two opportunities at a recent French Quarter candidate forum to liken her old ally to a despot.

In the first instance, Clarkson complained that Nagin has repeatedly renewed the city’s state of emergency, which, she charged, “gives him a total dictatorship.” Clarkson briefly conceded that the declaration may be necessary. But that didn’t stop her from concluding that “it’s gone on too long and it’s been too absurd.”

When the discussion at the loosely structured forum turned to the administration’s controversial efforts to sign a contract to remove flooded cars, Clarkson returned to the same theme. Noting that the council has no say over the selection of professional-service contractors, Clarkson vowed to lead an effort to change the City Charter “to take some of this dictatorship power our of the hands of the mayor.”

Kind of makes you wonder what his enemies would say.

. . . . . . .

AND THEN THERE WERE SEVEN? Nine of the 23 mayoral hopefuls took part in the initial TV forum sponsored by WGNO.

At times, the large contingent proved hard for anchors Liz Reyes and Michael Hill to manage.

When the ABC affiliate stages the second TV meeting Monday at 7 p.m., the number of candidates will be down to seven: Nagin, Boulet, Couhig, Forman, Landrieu, the Rev. Tom Watson and former City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson.

Left out this time were radio personality James Arey and community activist and former state Rep. Leo Watermeier.

WGNO News Director Bob Noonan said the decision to pare down the field was made by station staffers, who weighed a variety of factors, including polling information, how much money the candidates have raised and spent, and which are considered the most visible.

The debate will be streamed live on ABC26.com and nola.com and simulcast on 102.9 KMEZ radio, Noonan said. It will be aired on C-SPAN as well, Noonan said, although it was unclear Friday whether it would be carried live or on tape-delay.

. . . . . . .

ANOTHER FORMAN DONOR? Nagin was plowing through a seemingly endless section on economic development in his speech at the Bring New Orleans Back Commission meeting Monday night when he came to a line in his text listing tourism-related agencies the city plans to support: the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., the Audubon Nature Institute . . .

“Well, maybe not the Audubon Institute,” Nagin interjected, drawing a big laugh before he added, “Just kidding.”

As everyone in the audience knew, the institute’s top executive, Forman, is one of Nagin’s chief opponents in the mayor’s race.

. . . . . . .

IN COURT AGAIN: The seven assessorial races have already featured four lawsuits, two of them involving challenges to the “I.Q.” nickname used by a slate of challengers who have promised to refuse pay and to work to consolidate their offices into one.

On Thursday, a fifth lawsuit — this one of a different variety — was filed by Braden Robinson, a candidate for the 7th District seat, who is not affiliated with the so-called “I.Q. ticket.”

Robinson, a longtime critic of assessment practices in the city, claims in his federal petition that he is being denied his right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution by virtue of the haphazard appraisal practices of the seven assessors. The case has been allotted to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.

As evidence, Robinson cites newspaper articles and reports by the Bureau of Governmental Research and the state Tax Commission, which last year ordered a reassessment of all residential property based on its findings that the tax rolls were well out of whack. (The commission is named as a defendant along with the seven assessors.)

Robinson, a contractor, is representing himself in the suit, although he said he’s receiving free legal advice from lawyers who didn’t want to get involved. He said he’s optimistic about the case, although federal judges tend to be loath to involve themselves in local matters such as assessment practices.

Moreover, a judge may well decide that the Tax Commission’s reassessment mandate — which has yet to be satisfied — is precisely the sort of remedy that could address Robinson’s complaint.

. . . . . . .

Gordon Russell can be reached at grussell@timespicayune.com or (504) 652-0952.

Frank Donze can be reached at fdonze@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3328.

Mar 25, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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