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GOP, white voters choose Black City Council candidate

17th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

The victory of Latoya Cantrell for New Orleans City Council District B shows that African-American candidates can win over popular white candidates in Caucasian-leaning swing seats–when they take the unorthodox step of building coalitions with GOP and conservative Caucasian voters in the City.

Post-Katrina, the success of white Democratic politicians in the city, achieving a majority of the seats on a City Council that enjoyed a Black majority pre-storm, has rested in the decline of Black voters as a percentage of the City’s population.

New Orleans is still an African American-majority city, but, excepting elections where Barack Obama has been on the ballot, white voters have tended to turnout at to the polls at rates near or above Black voters. This explains the election victories of Jackie Clarkson and Stacy Head running citywide against a well-known Black opponent like Cynthia Willard-Lewis.

In these races, Cau­casian voters–particularly Republican-and-Conservative ones–tended to support a White moderate Democrat over a more liberal African-American candidate. While some African Americans might cross lines and vote for a white candidate with strong civil rights records, like Mayor Mitch Landrieu, generally one’s race seemed to determine the direction of one’s vote—and so, the percentage of Black turnout typically determined the racial outcome of municipal elections.

However, that chain of inevit-ability was broken on December 8 2012. The victory of Latoya Cantrell proved that when a Black contender for office appeals to a conservative electorate on matters of their concern—from economic development to neighborhood quality of life issues–she can gain their crucial votes against a credible white Democratic opponent, such as Dana Kaplan.

Creating biracial coalitions has happened before in New Orleans politics, just not to the extent of this District B race. Ray Nagin’s original victory for Mayor rested on overwhelming support of the white community, particularly the GOP-leaning precincts of the city. Yet, that was a contest between two Black candidates. Even four years later when Nagin managed to narrowly beat Mitch Landrieu’s advantage in gaining a quarter of the Black vote—in the runoff—by scaring many conservative white voters in to supporting his incumbency, that victory seemed a confluence of unique post-Katrina circumstances.

And, regardless in that election, most whites voted for Lan­d­rieu and most Blacks for Nagin—as was the trend as in every other local election, until Cantrell. She managed to win African Americans overwhelmingly, while at the same time earning more of the white vote, by percentage, than even Nagin got in that race for mayor.

That Cantrell won Caucasian votes in Broadmoor is not so surprising. After all, as Broadmoor Improvement Asso­ciation President she gained almost a national reputation for her fight to save her neighborhood when it was “green dotted.” She also earned goodwill for her outspoken stands on economic development issues such as the initiatives to rehabilitate the nearby (and previously moribund) Freret Street into Arts/Enter­tainment/Ea­tery avenue of today.

Still, that does not explain Cantrell’s popularity with large portions of the white Uptown electorate outside of Broadmoor.

Cantrell’s strength against Kaplan in precincts like 13/2 on Dec. 8 seems historically shocking. This area of Uptown lies just down from the mansions of Exposition Blvd and Nashville, and is not known for its automatic embrace of Black candidates. Yet, that did not stop Cantrell from tying Kaplan 50/50 in this Audubon Park-area neighborhood that white politicians usually easily win.

The same conclusion could be drawn on Precinct 13/5, that is bordered by Magazine Street, Coliseum, and Upperline. Cantrell lost here to Kaplan, but only 48/52. It is a precinct that routinely votes GOP in Presidential elections and should be out of reach for a Black Democrat. Yet, Cantrell all but tied the vote here as well.

When matched with Cantrell’s overwhelming returns in Black majority precincts of Uptown (with some White residents) like 11/5 and 11/8, where she earned 69 percent and 67 percent respectively, the new City Council Woman built an electoral alliance that proved impossible to beat.

This is best demonstrated by her strength in early voting. It tends to favor white Candidates as Caucasians are usually more willing to show up to vote a week early, but Cantrell surprised here as well. She won early voting decisively, 58 percent to Kaplan’s 42 percent. And, though Black voters constituted a majority of the vote citywide, whites held a slight advantage on election day in District B, underlining the extent of Cantrell’s feat.

The new African-American City Councilwoman can trace her win, not only to her own attractive stands, but also in large part to the unabashed support of two favorites of the Uptown conservative White Community, Stacy Head and her former aide Eric Strachan. The tireless work of both convinced more moderate and conservative Whites, both Republicans and Democrats, that these voters could have few concerns in casting a ballot for Cantrell.

In the primary, the former City Council aide ranked only 1500 ballots behind Kaplan, with 24.39 percent of the vote. Though a White Democrat like Kaplan, Strachan’s core support was the wealthier Uptown precincts, as befits Stacy Head’s former staffer. And, he knocked doors, and campaigned without stop during the runoff on Cantrell’s behalf. As did the State Rep. from much of the silk stocking areas of Uptown, Neil Abramson.

This show of support tended to neutralize Kaplan’s endorsements from white Democrats like Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Represen­tatives Walt Leger, and Helena Moreno. Nor did her support from African-American Dems like Congressman Cedric Richmond, Assessor Erroll Williams, or Sheriff Marlin Gusman seemingly do much to divert the Black vote to her side.

This article was originally published in the December 17, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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