The long wait is almost over. Next Tuesday (Aug. 14), Mayor Marc Morial is scheduled to kick off his campaign to change the City Charter, an initiative that, if passed, would allow him to seek a third consecutive four-year term.
Will this mayor succeed where his father twice failed? During the 1980s, the late Mayor Dutch Morial suffered two overwhelming defeats to change the charter's term limit on mayors. Now, the courts and the City Council have already cleared the way to put this mayor's one-time, third-term initiative before the voters on Oct. 20. If voters approve, Morial will be allowed to campaign for re-election in the Feb. 2 citywide elections.
Morial's third-term initiative is a political "pre-season" for the Feb. 2 elections, but some say its passage could pre-empt the coming mayor's race. Qualifying opens Dec. 12. Meanwhile, state Sen. Paulette Irons' press secretary told us last week that Irons would announce her campaign to become the city's first female mayor before Morial's Oct. 20 referendum. Indeed, if the best argument for a third term is an allegedly weak field without Morial, other potential candidates should perhaps try to separate themselves from that field sooner rather than later.
Historically, political battles and election timetables aren't exactly separated by a firewall. In fact, there are really two separate but related campaigns rolling into the Oct. 20 referendum. First, there is the philosophical debate: Why should we change our structure of government for one man? On the other hand, if we kill "3T," will we be limiting our city's potential for greatness by reducing the quality of the candidate pool in the Feb. 2 elections? Or will we safeguard our city against the excesses of power?
If 3T is a great idea now, why wasn't it a great idea in 1995? Voters then approved dozens of charter changes at the request of both the mayor and the City Council. The changes included good government legislation such as establishing an independent inspector general and an ethics review board. Both the mayor and the council still have not acted on either initiative. "Government works best when it has the trust and confidence of its citizens," Morial said then.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
The public should demand that Morial and the two potential mayoral candidates from the council -- Jim Singleton and Troy Carter -- fulfill their voter-approved obligations. Give us an ethics board and an inspector general. There is plenty of work for both. And please do not buy into the argument that a local ethics board would only duplicate the wishy-washy Louisiana Ethics Commission in faraway Baton Rouge.
The second campaign going into Oct. 20 is Morial's own. To pass 3T, the mayor must run on his record. Voters must decide what is so special about this record that Morial alone should be allowed to remain in power. What can he achieve during four more years in office that he could not achieve in 7.5 years? What fresh vision and new ideas does he have?
"We're working on a fairly comprehensive plan for the reform of education in New Orleans," Morial says. "The next most critical issue that the city faces is public schools ... it is the economic development issue of the 21st century for New Orleans."
Morial is expected to unveil his education agenda next week. We admit we're already skeptical. We have a separate governmental structure outside City Hall to oversee education. Besides, reforming public education is a long-term issue for economic development. In our view, short-term economic development and business retention are the primary issues for the city today. And here Morial takes a more sanguine view than we do.
"The unemployment rate today is ... at an historic 25- to 30-year low," Morial says. "We shouldn't dismiss that." Acknowledging the national drag on the local economy, he adds that New Orleans is in "a better position to withstand a softening economy" than it was in the mid-80s.
Morial must also address voter concerns on a range of issues, including deteriorating city streets, rebounding crime rates, potentially higher utility rates, the proposed privatization of water and sewerage services, recommended zoning changes and litter abatement.
The mayor says anyone looking at his record should ask the "Reagan Question" -- are we better off today than we were in 1993, before Morial was first elected mayor? His answer is not shocking: "There is not a single objective number where things are worse than they were in ."
As 3T finally gets underway, our misgivings are many. However, we should all try to keep an open mind as both the mayor and opponents of 3T put forth their best arguments. As survivors of the bitter term limits campaigns of the '80s, we now call on all sides of the charter campaign to offer no harbor for personal attacks, divisiveness and rancor. Victory should be accepted humbly; defeat, with grace. The dignity of the mayor's office belongs to all.