James Carville is getting his wish. A few weeks ago, he penned an essay in this newspaper saying that if he could, he would run for mayor — but that was not his point. His point was that New Orleans' future is brighter than many think, and potential candidates should not be daunted by the array of problems that await the next mayor.
Carville's message was lost on a lot of people, who focused solely on him running. Fortunately, enough others understood what he was saying — and some of them are now seriously thinking of running for mayor. They include eastern New Orleans businessman Troy Henry and businesswoman and education reformer Leslie Jacobs.
At the same time, one potential candidate has opted out, though not because he was cowed by the competition or the job. Engineer-businessman Roy Glapion has decided not to run, citing family considerations.
For now, the field of announced and quasi-announced candidates includes state Sen. Ed Murray, state Rep. Austin Badon, attorney-businessman Rob Couhig, businessman John Georges, attorney-activist James Perry and former Judge Nadine Ramsey. The mere possibility of Henry and/or Jacobs running adds interesting dimensions to what has been a low-key race so far.
Henry, like Georges, would have no problem financing his own campaign. A native of the Lower 9th Ward and a graduate of St. Augustine High School, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, Henry is a self-made businessman who, with his childhood friend, actor Wendell Pierce, is rebuilding Pontchartrain Park. If he runs, Henry would complicate things for Badon and Murray. Badon already is struggling to raise money and name recognition, and both he and Henry live in eastern New Orleans. Murray has some traction as the leading black candidate, but he lacks the charisma and executive experience that Henry has in abundance. Henry adds that Pierce will serve as his campaign chairman, which will give star power to his candidacy and make Murray seem even more like a wallflower by comparison. As of last week, Henry seemed inclined to run, but he was still vetting the idea with friends, family and advisors.
Jacobs has a business background as a successful insurance executive, but she also has held elective office as a member of the Orleans Parish School Board. She later was appointed to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), so she knows her way around state and local government. She recently has been a leading advocate of public school reform, particularly charter schools. Unlike Henry, she is not on the cusp of jumping into the race. She is polling the idea and will decide in early November whether to run. Until then, she will generate a lot of buzz — and if she runs, she will complicate things for Georges, who until now has been the leading white candidate. Like Ramsey, she could galvanize the female vote. And like Henry, she will not have problems raising money if she decides to run.
The biggest challenge for both Henry and Jacobs will be the Nagin Factor. Eight years ago, voters elected "businessman" Ray Nagin, and it didn't work out so well. Truth be told, Nagin was never a businessman — but he was branded as such. Polls now show that voters are looking for someone with political and governmental competence, not necessarily business chops. Henry and Jacobs thus will have a twofold challenge: first, they must dispel the myth that Nagin was actually a businessman; and second, they must convince voters to take a chance on a real businessperson.
It will not be easy, but at least for now it's looking like we might — finally — have ourselves a mayor's race.