Post-Election Observations

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Wow, what a night! The 2010 citywide elections could signal a turning point in New Orleans politics, much like the 1969 elections. Interestingly, the ’69 race gave us Mayor Moon Landrieu and the ascendency of black political power in New Orleans. This time we’re getting Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the beginning — many hope — of post-racial politics in our city. It’s too early to tell for sure if that’s the case, but the early signs are encouraging.

Here are my observations after sleeping off a hangover and going to Mass to pray for Da Saints:

• It was not about race. What Mitch Landrieu did was amazing enough — winning an “open” mayoral race (i.e., one without an incumbent running) in the primary — but HOW he did it was even more amazing. He is not only the first mayor in modern history to capture a majority of the votes in an open primary, but he’s also the first mayor in all of New Orleans history to win any race with solid majorities among white and black voters. In the past, winning mayors got a huge majority of the votes among one race and enough of a minority among the other to win — but never a big majority among BOTH. Landrieu did that last night, and it portends (I hope) a seismic shift in New Orleans’ political paradigm. That shift is a movement away from racial voting patterns and toward post-racial politics, very much akin to what President Barack Obama did on the national scene. Does it mean race will never matter? No. But hopefully it means that race won’t matter so much. Consider the next point along with this one …

• Crossover voting occurred up and down the ballot. This goes-hand-in-hand with the observation above. In the mayoral race, a huge majority of black voters cast ballots for the leading white candidate, Landrieu. In some quarters of the black community, there were pre-election fears of a “white takeover” because of “a move afoot” from the “shadow government,” etc., etc. Truth is, white folks aren’t that organized. Moreover, a look at other citywide races on the same ballot shows that a majority or near-majority of whites voted for the leading black candidates over white opponents. As an example, I’m going to look at several races using returns from some all-white precincts:

- Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman won citywide with 82.9 percent of the total vote. In the all-white neighborhood of Lake Vista, he got more than 81 percent of the vote against a white opponent.

- Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell won citywide with 82 percent of the vote. In those same Lake Vista precincts, he got 67 percent of the vote against a white opponent.

- In the two open judicial races, whites voted heavily for the winning black candidates — Paula Brown and Tracey Flemings-Davillier — over white challengers. Brown got 44.5 percent of the vote in the Lake Vista precincts, and Flemings-Davillier got 33 percent, but her white opponent, Richard Exnicios, campaigned very heavily in that area. In the white precincts of Algiers, Brown clobbered her white opponent by a huge margin, and Flemings-Davillier beat Exnicios.

- In the first race for a citywide assessor, the two incumbent assessors who were running both made the runoff, but the clear frontrunner was Erroll Williams, who is black. He got 45 percent of the vote citywide and led the second-place finisher, Claude Mauberret, by a wide margin. Mauberret, who was the only “major” white candidate in this race, got just 25 percent of the vote. Finishing right behind Mauberret was Janis Lemle, an African-American who carried the “reform” banner. Between them, the two black candidates got about 70 percent of the vote, which means they got a huge chunk of white votes. Looking at the mostly white “silk stocking” section of the 14th Ward, Lemle won a clear majority. In the four whitest precincts of Algiers, Williams and Lemle together got 49 percent of the vote — and that was in the face of some high-powered Algiers politicos supporting Mauberret.

Bottom line: crossover voting was the order of the day up and down the ballot. The old days of voting strictly along racial lines appear to be over.

• Competence Matters. In some ways, this was a big do-over from the 2006 election. I’ve said many times that many voters had a big case of “buyers’ remorse” after the last citywide election, and the results of last night proved it. That remorse was even more pronounced in black precincts. Voters were tired of the “businessman” model and wanted somebody who understands politics and government. No other candidate could match Landrieu on that matrix.

• Nagin Repudiated. The results represent a repudiation of Ray Nagin on several levels. First, the aforementioned comments about competence and buyers’ remorse. Second, Nagin did everything he could to make race a factor, and voters just weren’t buying it. He even went on black radio and spent some of his own campaign funds to promote the idea of voting to keep The Franchise, but the appeal fell on deaf ears. The most interesting part of Nagin’s ploy was his failure to recommend a particular candidate. That occurred, I think, for two reasons: (1) as dumb as he is politically, Nagin recognizes that he’s the kiss of death in an election; and (2) every candidate, including all three black candidates, campaigned on the notion that Nagin has been an abject failure. Voters aren’t stupid, Mr. Mayor. They see you for what you are, and they want something different.

• Turnout was very low. In the 2006 primary — the first citywide elections held post-Katrina — the citywide turnout was a mere 36.8 percent. A total of 109,979 voters went to the polls on April 22 that year. In some ways, that was not such a bad showing, considering how many voters were displaced by Katrina. Then again, this was the first chance for our citizens to weigh in on the future of the city after The Flood. In the May 20 runoff that year, turnout jumped to 38.5 percent (115,231 votes cast). Interestingly, the additional 6,000 or so voters were almost all black, according to figures from the Secretary of State’s office, and that’s pretty much where Mitch Landrieu lost the race. (Interesting footnote: The total white votes cast fell by more than 500 from the primary to the runoff in 2006, perhaps a sign of white disenchantment with Landrieu at that time. That wasn’t the case this year.)

This time, citywide turnout was paltry 88,939 — more than 21,000 fewer than the 2006 primary. It’s too soon to ascertain turnout by race, but it’s a safe bet that black voter turnout was very low. That’s probably what cost Cynthia Willard-Lewis an at-large seat on the City Council. When you hear people like me preaching about turnout, think of this election and Willard-Lewis’ loss to Jackie Clarkson. Last night, when the only “unreported” precincts were from eastern New Orleans, it appeared Willard-Lewis had a shot to pass Clarkson and win. But, when the votes came in, there just weren’t enough of them to make up the difference. Turnout, turnout, turnout.

That’s all I have time for right now. Gotta to watch the Saints. Who Dat!

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