Voters piled into New Orleans from every direction. Buses brought displaced New Orleanians from as far away as Atlanta. Why did you ride the bus down here when you could have voted absentee? Anthony and Frances Tasker answered that the questions being asked in the ballot application were “too personal to risk anyone getting their hands on.” Neighbors who had not seen each other since August 29 were greeting and hugging. Tears were flowing, according to those who were there.
The headline of Sunday’s paper blares out: NAGIN and underneath LANDRIEU. Subtitle: “Forman runs distant third; runoff set for May 20.”
The returns began coming in soon after polls closed at 8 pm, and the lead seesawed for a while between the top three. Then Nagin and Landrieu pulled away and Forman was never close again.
Analysts use computers these days and can tell you almost instantly who is voting for each candidate. For instance, Mayor Nagin received almost all the votes of displaced voters who had lost their homes, and he and Landrieu split the votes of African-Americans in the city. Forman’s support came almost exclusively from the “white” precincts. Even with the population of the city being less than half its normal 450,000, the turnout of registered voters was 36%, compared with 45% in the last election when life was normal and everyone was at home.
As the paper reported, Nagin received 41,489 votes for 38%, Mitch Landrieu 31,499 (29%), Ron Forman 18,734 (17%), and Rob Couhig 10,287 (10%).
You have to be a little stunned at the small number of votes some of the candidates thought to be among the top tier received. When the media would select the top one-third of the twenty-something candidates, they brought together Rev. Tom Watson, Virginia Boulet, and Peggy Wilson. For all their trouble, the votes they garnered were: Watson 1,264 (1%), Boulet 2,367 (2%), and Wilson 772 (1%).
And Clerk of Criminal Court Kimberly Williamson Butler, she of “martyrdom” fame, how did she do? She received 793 votes, or 1%. James Arey is a familiar and pleasant voice on our NPR station in New Orleans, based at the University of New Orleans. He resigned his job to run for mayor. Poor guy. He shoulda kept his day job. Only 99 votes.
Another race watched with interest was the seven tax assessor slots. Seven of them, right. The only city in the nation so encumbered. Those seven offices have been handed down from parents to children for generations in several cases, and the differing assessments for similar houses sometimes across the street from each other has become a scandal. Last year the legislature refused to vote on a bill to combine them all into one office. So a group of citizens that called themselves “I.Q.” for “I quit” ran candidates for each position. Their plan was to get elected, then combine their salaries and hire a professional firm to assess the property in this city, and then lobby the legislature to do their duty. A judge refused to allow the candidates to have “I.Q.” on the ballots as their middle names. So the group tried to advertise themselves sufficiently to let voters know. In recent days, the incumbents have placed large, convincing ads in the paper touting their achievements and expertise.
In Saturday’s election, only one of the seven IQ candidates won without a run-off. In two districts, the IQ candidate made the runoff. In the other four, the incumbent won handily. What this fine predicament will turn out to mean is anyone’s guess.
Our Baptist seminary made the election news, although in a minor way. It turns out that one of the major voting places in east New Orleans was the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on Gentilly Boulevard. For some reason, they lost electrical power for 35 minutes in the late afternoon. Secretary of State Al Ater said, “But the voters never left. They completed their voting.”
Arnold Fielkow served as the well-liked executive vice-president of the New Orleans Saints, until he was fired by owner Tom Benson, in another post-Katrina development. Fielkow had urged Benson to have the Saints–relocated to San Antonio after the storm–play some of their games in Baton Rouge, which he went along with and later regretted. So, for that, Fielkow was canned. Local citizens were outraged and urged Arnie to run for local office. He chose to run for one of the two “at large” seats on the city council. To do so, he was going up against two veterans of local politics, Oliver Thomas and Jacquelyn Clarkson. Thomas, a Black, is smart and popular with everyone and led the field with 39% of the vote. Jackie, the mother of Hollywood star and Academy Award Nominee (winner?) Patricia Clarkson, received 22% of the vote, and Fielkow 18%. Which means the latter two will be in a runoff for the second seat.
Sunday morning, Mayor Nagin was beaming over his 38% of the vote. A resounding victory, he called it. An affirmation of all that we have done. A clear win.
What I cannot figure out is why a 38% approval record of President Bush indicates that he is a failure and the American people are not with him, and the same percentage for the mayor means the citizens are for him and he is doing a great job. Both are incumbents, both are trying their best presumably, both are controversial, and both are being given a 38% approval vote.
Just depends on whose ox is being gored, I think the saying is.
Let me make a little prediction here.
I’ve lived here for 16 years this time, and nearly 20 years total. I see how things work around here. And here’s what I have noticed.
People really turn out for the primary elections, such as they did yesterday. With so many candidates and so many items on the ballot, so much news coverage, the event was, if you will allow me to use the word, sexy.
But the runoff will be another story. Few people will journey hundreds of miles to cast their ballot for one of the candidates in the runoff. Something in the average voter convinces him that “I’ve done my part; I’m through.” As a result, far fewer votes will be cast in the May 20 runoff than were made yesterday.
A smart mayor–and I think Nagin is one–will look at the figures and say to himself, “Sixty-two percent of the people voted against me, the incumbent. I’d better not be too smug about coming in first in the primary. In the runoff, I have to get 51% of the vote.”
How to do that is another story altogether.
I wonder how many of the also-rans are kicking themselves about holding back their campaign funds for the runoff expenses. Now that they failed to make the runoff, they are sitting on a sack of money which is of no use to them. It’s the reason sports teams trying to make the playoffs do not save anything for the playoffs. “We’ll face that when we get there,” they will tell you. “First, we have to win this game.”
There may be a lesson about Christian living there. I’m not real sure what it is, but there’s gotta be one.