Two weeks ago, when Eric Granderson contemplated his prospects for winning the interim appointment to succeed his boss, Arnie Fielkow, on the New Orleans City Council, he said, "I'm not going to lose one moment of sleep over whether I get this job. But, if I do get it, I'll probably lose a lot of sleep in the next few months."
The statement was vintage Granderson, who long ago established himself as one of the most effective, insightful and influential staffers at City Hall. He began his career there nearly 30 years ago as an aide to then-District D Councilman Lambert Boissiere Jr. He later served as a top aide to Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, then moved to the Downtown Development District, where he served as capital projects manager. He returned to City Hall as a top advisor to District C Councilman Troy Carter, then signed on as Fielkow's chief of staff in 2006.
Along the way, Granderson came to know the ins and outs of city government as well as anyone. He knew the people as well as the sometimes-arcane processes. His advice was sought not only by politicians, but also by citizens, business folks and civic leaders who needed help navigating City Hall's bureaucracy.
With his college degree in political science from Columbia University, the New Orleans-born Granderson had all the formal qualifications when he started out, but it was his years in the trenches of city government that made him an invaluable counselor to several council members and a mayor — and an easy choice to succeed Fielkow temporarily, until his successor is elected in the spring.
I have known Granderson since his first days at City Hall. His hallmarks are his level head, low profile and calm demeanor. He beat out 15 other applicants for the interim appointment, which the council approved unanimously and without debate.
Some citizens in the audience last Thursday expressed anger at Granderson's appointment, but fellow applicant Tommy Milliner, who worked in the city attorney's office during some of the years that Granderson worked as a council and mayoral aide, praised the selection. "He's an excellent choice," Milliner said.
The appointment of Granderson, who is African-American, gives the seven-member council its third black member and begins to restore some of the racial parity that existed before Hurricane Katrina. Back then, the council had five African-American members; the city is more than 60 percent black.
While Granderson has keen political instincts and knows well the complex currents that swirl beneath the city's political landscape, those who know him say universally he is absolutely colorblind in his dealings with people. And while he moves easily around City Hall, he will not be a pushover as a council member. Look for him to ask some penetrating questions at budget time.
By law, Granderson cannot run in the March 24 special election to succeed Fielkow. Qualifying for the special election is Dec. 7-9, and several of Granderson's new colleagues could be running against one another in that race. That will test the council's — and Granderson's — diplomatic skills.
In accepting his appointment, Granderson told his new colleagues, "I'm going to be counting on you for advice."
No doubt, but his fellow council members would be well-served to continue heeding Granderson's counsel as well.