James Carville: If I Could, I Would

As potential mayoral candidates dwindle, one man would love the chance to take on the job



"The Mayor shall be a citizen of the United States and a qualified elector of the City, and shall have been domiciled in the City for at least five years immediately preceding the election."

— New Orleans Home Rule Charter, Section 4-202.


My life in politics spans some 50 years, beginning when I first went door to door for a candidate in my hometown. In my career, I've managed campaigns of multiple governors, congressmembers and U.S. senators. And I've worked to help elect 14 different heads of state and candidates in 21 countries across five continents.

  Any number of times for as long as I can remember, these politicians have asked me, "Don't you want to run for political office one day?"

  I often replied that the only thing I'd run for is the state line. I didn't really have any interest in running for office. Plus, with two young girls (ages 11 and 14), I've long joked that my past is not conducive to the scrutiny of the morally incorruptible. Put it this way, I wouldn't vet particularly well.

  When we moved here some 15 months ago, many speculated that I had political ambitions of some sort in Louisiana. That couldn't have been further from the truth. At my age, I had never even given it any thought.

  Lately, I have been asked that question almost daily by my fellow New Orleanians. At 64 years old, for the first time in my life, I've finally found an office I would run for — that is, if I could: mayor.

  Even my wife and daughters have asked me to run at this point. The odds of getting three women in the Carville household to agree on anything is slim to none and even less when it has anything to do with me, so this is particularly momentous.

  However, due to a protectionist proviso in the New Orleans City Charter that requires candidates for mayor to have been domiciled here for at least five years before the election, we'll never know how that works out.

  The truth is, though, if I could do it, I would do it. And I would not only run, I'd run with enthusiasm and optimism.

  Of course, the standard, generic political reasons that most politicians recite also happen to be true. I love my adopted city — the city where Mary and I fell in love and got married — and we enjoy participating in the city's rebuilding effort. I'd like to secure a future for the city I love so that my kids can have that same opportunity to live here.

  On the off chance that I could get elected — and I should note that the Tulane University/Democracy Corps poll showed it is possible for a white candidate to win — the main reason to run is that the next mayor will be in a position to lead the city during its next Golden Era. You'd never be able to tell from the almost-weekly announcements from A-list politicians declining the opportunity to run, but the next mayor will be taking the reins of a city poised for a decade of major investment, international attention and unprecedented funding for capital projects. The foundation for success is so overwhelming that the next mayor almost can't fail. For a job that few have shown interest in seeking, the next mayor will walk into City Hall with building blocks for growth already in place.

  Just stop and think of all that our city has going for it right now.

  If economic prognosticators are correct, on May 3, 2010, the next mayor will be sworn in looking forward to an improving national economy.

  A multi-billion-dollar medical corridor featuring a $1.2-billion, 424-bed, LSU-Tulane teaching hospital and a $900-million, 200-bed Veterans Administration hospital is finally on its way to being built.

  There are approximately 50,000 students enrolled in local universities. If we can generate new jobs to retain even a small percentage of those students, our city's workforce quality will be improved.

  There is currently a nearly $15 billion upgrade to the region's 220-plus miles of levees and floodwalls that, by the time they are completed, will be able to withstand a storm with a strength level that occurs roughly once every 100 years.

  New Orleans will serve as host city for a series of national and international sporting events, including Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, an NCAA Men's Final Four in 2012, the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2013, the BCS National Championship in 2012 and the AAU Junior Olympics in 2011, among others.

  If the past citywide elections are any kind of barometer, the next City Council will likely be composed of experienced, competent leaders — not just by New Orleans standards, but by national standards.

  New Orleans' post-Katrina experiment with public school reform has produced outstanding results. More than half of public school students now attend charter schools. The district performance score for all New Orleans schools, which is a measure of test scores as well as performance measures, rose from 56.9 pre-Katrina to 66.4 last year, at a time when the statewide average remained virtually unchanged.

  New Orleans is poised to be a major research center for protection of coastal communities. Research has shown that if sea levels continue to rise at their present rates, by 2100, approximately 10 percent of the world's population is at risk of being flooded. As we research and learn how to protect low-lying communities, we are positioned to export our technology around the world, much like the Dutch have done with their system of flood protection.

  And to the Nagin Administration's credit, the city has a bond rating that is investment-grade, giving the next mayor access to tens of millions of dollars to improve our streets and build public facilities.

  Add that to the fact that New Orleans is the only city in the world that boasts its own unique culture. We have our own cuisine, music, architecture, funerals, literature and cultural structure. No other city has all that.

  This is not to say the next mayor will not have serious challenges to tackle and tough decisions to make. Crime, education, and flood protection are complex issues that need thoughtful yet decisive leadership as we continue to rebuild.

  But you can literally see the improvement each passing day as the recovery continues.

  By the time New Orleans celebrates its tercentenary in 2018, the next mayor may be completing his or her second term in the company of the president of the United States, the president of France, and the president of Spain, celebrating not only the founding of New Orleans but also its successful rebirth 300 years later.

  Oh, and one last reason why I'd run: For the first time since Mary and I got married on Thanksgiving 1993, I might be able to get her to vote for a Democrat.

  Hey, if I could, I would.

Political consultant James Carville was raised in Iberville Parish and graduated from Louisiana State University. He was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and is currently a political contributor to CNN. In 2008, he and his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, moved to New Orleans. He is currently a Professor of Practice in the department of political science at Tulane University.


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