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He Changes Everything

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Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu all but made it official last week: He's running for mayor of New Orleans. After months of mulling it over, Landrieu says he plans to declare his candidacy after the special legislative session ends Feb. 17.

Landrieu is telling close associates that he wants to make sure he will have significant support from all parts of town -- and from African Americans as well as white voters -- and he wants to be sure he can raise enough money to run a winning campaign. Word is he has gotten lots of encouragement on all fronts.

"I am humbled by the outpouring of support from citizens all across New Orleans," Landrieu said in a prepared statement late last week. "I have the desire to serve. But, in order to be successful, I must also have the financial resources to win and a coalition of committed supporters who will help rebuild our great city. No one can do this alone.

"In the coming days, I will focus on two main priorities: first, I will devote my energies to the special session to help pass important levee board and governmental reforms; second, I will meet with citizens as well as business and community leaders to build a winning coalition. ...

"If elected, I commit to serve with integrity, candor and courage. As mayor, I will represent all of our people, not any one party, any one faction, or any one political ideology."

Landrieu's candidacy has immediate and far-reaching impact. From the get-go, he becomes the declared opponent for Nagin. He will cut deeply into Nagin's one-time white base, and he can attract significant black support as well. He now puts the onus on Audubon Nature Institute CEO Ron Forman, who also has contemplated running, to get in or out. Forman is the only other plausible white threat to Nagin's re-election (much more so than former City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson), but it's not clear how much black support he can garner. If Forman runs, he probably would draw a lot of potential Landrieu votes -- and that could play into Nagin's hands. On the other hand, if Forman does not run and instead backs Landrieu, he would make Landrieu the front-runner.

At the same time, a Landrieu candidacy makes it less likely that City Council President Oliver Thomas will run for mayor. Thomas had previously told top supporters he would oppose Nagin, but he and Landrieu have been very close for a long time. Neither wants to run against the other. Moreover, Thomas is not term-limited on the council; he can coast back into his present job and, if Landrieu wins, work with a mayor who gets it.

The Landrieu factor also has statewide impact. It's no secret that his relationship with Gov. Kathleen Blanco has run from tepid to chilly. That said, Blanco would love to see Landrieu beat Nagin, for whom she has no love lost. Equally important, under the state constitution she would get to appoint Landrieu's successor, subject to legislative confirmation. That's a pretty good equation from where Blanco sits: eliminate one enemy plus relocate one potential rival plus reward one friend. Adds up for her every time.

All eyes have been on Landrieu for months. As he prepares for the biggest career move of his life, he likely will remain the man everyone's watching. His candidacy changes everything.

Mitch Landrieu immediately becomes  the  declared - opponent for Mayor Ray Nagin. He will cut deeply into - Nagin's white base, and he can attract significant black - support as well. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Mitch Landrieu immediately becomes the declared opponent for Mayor Ray Nagin. He will cut deeply into Nagin's white base, and he can attract significant black support as well.

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