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Obama endorses Landrieu, Orleans democrats endorse Bagneris

13th January 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Community activist Pat Bryant entered the December 18 Christmas Party with two seemingly contradictory lapel buttons.

On the left—appropriately—was a 2014 mayoral campaign pin for Danatus King. On the right lapel sat an “I like Mike” pin. Since it was less than a week since CDC Judge Michael Bagneris had resigned to run for Mayor of New Orleans, Bryant had retasked the button so as to offer equal representation to the other Black candidate. (Considering the last-minute nature of the decision to stand, Bagneris hadn’t had time to imprint pins.)

Responding to the question, “You seem to have a bit of confusion on whom you’re going to support?” Bryant replied with a laugh, “No.”

“I’m for both,” he said and he expressed a hope that one or the other would drop out in favor of the stronger candidate. There was little doubt, though, that the African-American activist craved a Black Mayor. The civil rights record of the Landrieu family, and of Mitch Landrieu in particular, just did not carry much water with Bryant.

Or many other African-Americans who have felt a diminished influence post-Katrina in a still Black-majority city. Even the endorsement of President Barack Obama for Mitch Landrieu’s re-election carried little water with the Black-majority Democratic Party leadership of Orleans Parish. They endorsed Michael Bagneris for mayor over the incumbent—ignoring their own president’s preference.

“It is somewhat unprecedented for the party to reject its highest-ranking city official for re-election,” Bagneris campaign consultant Greg Buisson told The Louisiana Weekly. “It is especially surprising in the wake of the endorsement of the Mayor by the nation’s highest ranking Democrat. It shows that the local party leaders are sending a message to Washington: “we know what is best for New Orleans.”

Better than Barack Obama, who had said earlier last week, “Today, with the city poised for even more progress, there is no question that Mitch [Landrieu] has earned a second term as mayor – and I hope the people of New Orleans will give him one.”

Bagneris reportedly won more than 64 percent of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee Political Activities Committee vote against incumbent Mayor Mitch Landrieu, after responding to questions from OPDEC members on Wednesday, January 8 in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court jury room. Said the former CDC Judge, “This decision by the Democratic Party leaders will accelerate the momentum we are experiencing across the city…It was a brassy move for them to reject Washington politics. But they know that this election is about the future of our city, not the fate of political agenda.”

What Bagneris did not mention is the vote essentially broke down on racial lines, with white Democrats backing Landrieu and African Americans behind Bagneris—though there were notable exceptions in both cases.

The racial breakdown is not completely surprising since Bagneris and fellow challenger Danatus King launched attacks accusing Landrieu of not doing enough to bridge “the city of the haves and the city of the have-nots,” as King put it. He specifically labeled those “have-not neighborhoods,” eastern New Orleans, Central City and other enclaves that are predominately African-American.

Almost like the tag team of which Bryant hoped, Bagneris then chimed in that he was “born in Tremé and raised in the Desire projects” as the son of a cafeteria worker and a janitor. His “rags to riches” story mirrors the Presi?dent’s biography, yet neither Barack Obama’s endorsement—nor the political reason for the President’s largess, the impact to Democratic control of the U.S. Senate—carried much weight with the assembled partisan Democrats. One would think it might have played a role in Landrieu’s favor. Much of the reason Bagneris enjoys significant Republican support in his bid has to do with the upcoming 2014 Senate race. Essentially, defeating Mitch Landrieu makes it easier to beat his sister come November.

Democratic Party Committee member Jay H. Banks disregarded such arguments, maintaining that it was Bagneris’ record alone that encouraged the endorsement. “Judge Bagneris proved his passion for his city and presented a reasonable plan to solve some of our city’s toughest challenges. He earned our support with his well-defined agenda for progress.”

The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee which bills itself as a “neighborhood-based Democratic Party” serves as the official local arm of the Democratic Party. It is comprised of 70 directly elected members citywide, with 14 members selected by Democratic voters in each of New Orleans’ five City Council districts. OPDEC’s members, according to the organization, “reflect the geographic, political, and cultural diversity of the City of New Orleans, as they endeavor to fulfill the missions of the Louisiana Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee on the local level.”

In other words, the majority of its members feel the same Black angst predominating much of the African-American community locally. Ironically, the OPDEC board would unanimously back Sen. Mary Landrieu against any Republican opponent, for many of the same reasons. It did not see the connect that has driven Louisiana GOP fundraisers to back Bagneris. A relatively unopposed Mitch Landrieu would have had $2 million from his campaign fund to spend on “voter outreach” across the State in November, efforts that would have likely bolstered his sister’s GOTV efforts in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, New Orleans, and most particularly, Jefferson Parish.

The normally Republican enclave has been the reason both Landrieus have prevailed against GOP opponents in the past. Having money available to spend in the inner suburbs for “voter information” might have played a significant role in helping Mary Landrieu pull out a close contest. Now, much—though not all—of her brother’s funds are earmarked to answer Bagneris’ rising profile.

New Orleans now has a real mayor’s race, and that’s expensive. Despite the fact that Mitch Landrieu enjoyed a massive ministerial joint endorsement last week, he will still have to fight for the 27 percent of the African-American vote that carried the tide four years ago. And, the incumbent will need to spend money to keep conservative Caucasians on his side.

The Orleans Republican Party Executive Committee, RPEC, has yet to endorse. Should they back Bagneris, as sources close to The Louisiana Weekly indicate they likely will, it would release prominent Republicans to openly campaign for Bagneris in Lakeview and Uptown.

This article originally published in the January 13, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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