State Sen. Paulette Irons needed to get out of the blocks fast in the mayor's race, and she did just that in her announcement of candidacy last Tuesday. She packed a ballroom at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel, showed off some major political backing, and took off the gloves against Mayor Marc Morial. Even if Morial cannot be a candidate in the Feb. 2 primary, Irons made it clear he will be an issue.
Her speech carried several themes. The most obvious was the notion that "it's time" for New Orleans to seriously consider a woman mayor. A parallel theme was a call for cleaning up political corruption. That's where the gloves came off.
"It is time we shake up the shakedown artists, and shake off our long-held reputation as a corrupt city," Irons said. "It is time we take the 'For Sale' sign off City Hall!"
Someone forgot to tell Morial. In the same week, the Morial-controlled Regional Transit Authority awarded a five-year, $3.7 million consulting contract to hizzoner's uncle, Glenn Haydel. Do the math: the contract will run completely through the next mayor's first term. It's a sweet deal for Uncle Glenn, but it could serve up a dandy campaign issue for Irons.
Another one is the mayor's push to privatize the Sewerage and Water Board -- sort of. He wants to keep control over the biggest sub-contractors.
Irons became the first candidate for mayor to oppose the S&WB privatization: "And speaking of 'For Sale' signs, has anyone asked the people of New Orleans if they want to sell off the Sewerage and Water Board?
"While trying to stay in power, our leaders are signing last-minute deals that will tie the hands of future mayors and obligate the city for the next 20 years," she continued. "That is wrong. The people deserve a say and I will demand that they be heard."
The former teenage mother who won Morial's old state Senate seat -- in a heated campaign in which she beat his hand-picked candidate seven years ago -- made it clear she's no softie. Irons is not known as a great speaker, but most in attendance agreed she made a fine speech. Among her promises: an "open door day" during which she will sit in City Hall "from morning to night" meeting with citizens -- "without an appointment, without connections, and without making a campaign contribution."
In addition to her firebrand speech, Irons turned a few heads with an impressive show of political clout. She was preceded at the microphone by state Senate President John Hainkel, state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members Leslie Jacobs, and state Sen. Lambert Boissiere Jr. Jacobs delivered her own shot at Morial, whose third-term ambitions are framed as a chance to help public schools. Citing Irons' long-time commitment to education, Jacobs said Irons "is no Johnny-Come-Lately to the effort to improve public education."
State Reps. Pat Swilling and Cedric Richmond, two of the city's new breed of independent black politicians, also attended and are backing Irons. Other backers include House Speaker Pro Tem Peppi Bruneau, school board member Jimmy Fahrenholtz, Recorder of Mortgages Desiree Charbonnet, former City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson and First City Court Constable Lambert Boissiere III.
Irons' coalition of blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans makes her a contender. She has far less money on hand than any of her opponents, but as the first woman to mount a serious campaign for mayor in a city whose electorate is more than 57 percent female, she cannot be discounted.