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Could ‘Big Charity’ development lead to a Black governor of Louisiana?

15th July 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

The transformation of Big Charity Hospital into a new City Hall is a $207 million ambition for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu. To leave behind a towering civic center that would bridge the CBD and the new Medical District fits in with his legacy to rebuilding his hurricane-ravaged city.

The mayor’s biggest fan on this project could very well be Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne.

Commitment to such a large project—and the political fights to get it done over the next two years — means that Landrieu likely will not run for governor just nine months after he runs for re-election as New Orleans’ mayor. And that also means that the $1 million Landrieu has in his campaign bank account as of February will only be spent in part against any minor opposition he has in the mayor’s race early in 2015, and not to squeeze Dardenne out of a runoff slot in November. Reportedly, the Lt. Governor actively feared a three-way gubernatorial contest between he, Mitch Landrieu, and David Vitter. That scenario would likely leave a moderate-conservative like Dardenne without enough votes to make into a runoff.

Supposedly, Landrieu stood as the lone caucasian Democrat with both money and enough statewide name recognition for this to come to pass. Despite the ambitions of John Bel Edwards, the New Orleans’ mayor is the only candidate from the white community with a realistic shot in the upcoming governor’s race, both in the primary and runoff, and Dardenne knows it.

Democrats allegedly are now pondering positioning an Afri­can American to run for the top Louisiana post. Baton Mayor and current prospective Lt. Guber­natorial candidate Kip Holden may fill the bill. He might be doomed in a runoff against Dardenne, but could the Baton Rouge Mayor win in a primary against a crowded GOP field?

Without Mitch Landrieu, the race seems to be an all Republican contest.

Landrieu has fought three elections to become Mayor of New Orleans. To run for governor nine months after getting re-elected to his current position might have been a bit much for the electorate, especially since he would have also put so much energy behind his sister’s re-election just four months before. Mary Landrieu faces the voters in the fall of 2014.

Mitch Landrieu’s embrace of the nearly quarter billion dollar effort to gut Big Charity and build within its Art Deco Shell a new City Hall is predicated on the finances of those who would equally share the building, the Judges of Orleans Civil District Court. The millions that the court would provide, in exchange for the first 10 floors, plays an essential role in the financial package.

The private truth is that the Civil Court judges are not terribly enthusiastic about building their new Courthouse in Big Charity.

They are not opposed, exactly, but the CDC bench backed an effort led by State Rep. Jeff Arnold to build a Courthouse on top of the former state office building at Duncan Plaza. They want out of their deteriorating court facility, as much as Landrieu wants out collapsing offices next door, but the Judges are not fully sold on the idea of moving as far away, or spending so much, to make the Avery Alexander Charity Hospital Complex shine again as a City Tower.

It will take all of Landrieu’s energies and focus through the end of 2014, and throughout 2015, to keep the Civil Court Judges on board with his Civic Center project. He needs his own re-election, but lacking any serious opposition, that’s a foregone conclusion. But, should he distract himself, and spend political capital to end up in a runoff with David Vitter, the new City Hall in Charity Hospital could pay the price of his distraction.

David Vitter, by contrast, may not have formally announced for the top job either, but Ag Commissioner Mike Strain’s pronouncement that he would not run all but did it for the U.S. senator.

Strain’s speech to the Farm Convention, his core financial supporters, that he had decided not to run led good government advocate C.B. Forgotston to satirize that he “TOO would not run”. Forgotston loves to harp upon the absurdity of politicians making great proclamations when they opt to do nothing, yet this time Strain’s public decision to demure served as important revelation. He would only stand down if his ally David Vitter were certain to be a candidate.

Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne already is, but that alone would not have stopped Strain from exploring a bid for the Executive Mansion. Trying to face both men, one of them an ally, was enough to keep the Ag Sec out.

Still, the fact that no serious Democrat has declared in the Governor’s race, and that Bobby Jindal has not back anyone yet, has led to a curious dance of offices, obsessing Louisiana’s political leadership in recent days. Call it a Creole Game of Thrones.

Jay Dardenne and David Vitter vie for the governorship in a battle of support that so far is apparently occurring behind closed doors. Yet, each wonders, what will Bobby Jindal do? The current incumbent is term limited, but his actions could drastically affect the entire political landscape.

Does Jindal really mean it when he claims no interest in a run against Mary Landrieu? Because, if Jindal did run, and won, Lt. Governor Dardenne would just constitutionally advance into the top job, running for a full term as an incumbent. Th­warted in gubernatorial ambitions, Vitter would likely stay in the US Senate, and his protege Bill Cassidy would re­main as Baton Rouge’s Congress­man.

Moreover, if Mitch Landrieu stays in the New Orleans, the Demo­cratic field for governor is effectively open. How might that affect the plans of his colleague current Kip Holden. Right now, the Baton Rouge Mayor seems poised to run for lieutenant. governor, but could that change.

Especially since it now looks as if Holden will not be the only African American seeking the lieutenant governorship.

Scuttlebutt has it that newly minted State Senator Elbert Guillory eyes becoming the first Louisiana Black Repub­lican lieutenant governor since Recon­struction’s P.B.S. Pinch­back. (Holden, if elected, would be the first Afri­can-American Demo­crat in the post.)

And should Guillory run, he would definitely face fellow Republican Plaquemines Parish Pres­ident Billy Nun­gesser, who all but announced for the number two post.

State Rep. Paul Hollis of St. Tammany, son of the late State Senator and an independently wealthy coin dealer, is reportedly also eyeing a run for that seat. And there’s also Republican Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Norman, who once floated a potential run, though, seems more apt to now run for governor, since his ally, Landrieu, likely will not.

Convoluted. Definitely.

This article originally published in the July 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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