Mayor Ray Nagin needs a victory this fall almost as badly as do the New Orleans Saints. His impressive win in the mayor's race 18 months ago hasn't faded from memory, but it's not as fresh in the minds of politicos as his weak showing in last October's race for district attorney.
In the DA's race, Nagin backed attorney James Gray, who ran third in the primary. As is often the case, much of that respectable but disappointing result was beyond Nagin's control. Gray was uninspiring on the stump, and two nearly back-to-back hurricanes blew the mayor's endorsement off the front page and out of voters' minds. Coming as it did less than two weeks before Election Day, Nagin's endorsement of Gray wound up being too little, too late.
Hizzoner is determined not to let that happen in the governor's race.
Nagin has been meeting with all the major candidates, particularly the four Democrats, for months. He is said to be very close to endorsing former Senate President Randy Ewing of Quitman, the only candidate from north Louisiana and one of two moderate Democrats. Ewing was the flavor of the month a few months ago, but his campaign appears to be stuck in high single digits. He needs a big boost -- right now -- and metro New Orleans has the largest chunk of votes without a favorite son in the race.
Nagin has hinted he will make an endorsement soon, possibly as early as this week. If he does, his will be among the first major endorsements in the race. At a minimum, no one will be able to accuse him of waiting too long to weigh in.
But will he have any company this time?
In the DA's race, Nagin was virtually alone among local politicos in backing Gray. His one-time nemesis, Congressman Bill Jefferson, was squarely behind eventual winner Eddie Jordan, while outgoing DA Harry Connick was all over Civil Court Clerk Dale Atkins, who made the runoff with Jordan.
This time, Nagin expects things to be different. For starters, he and Jefferson reportedly have buried the hatchet; the two are rumored to be joining forces behind Ewing, in fact. It's also convenient that Jefferson's daughter Jalila is once again running for state representative in Central City. She narrowly lost a special election a year ago to Rep. Rosalind Peychaud. Nagin is known to be disappointed in Peychaud's voting record, so he and Jefferson may be uniting behind several candidates this season.
As Humphrey Bogart once said, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Or, it could just be politics as usual. We'll see.
One of several interesting things about a Nagin-Jefferson alliance is that it helps both men without either giving up anything. Nagin, as a reformer, can remain independent of political organizations, while Jefferson can continue to lead one of the city's most effective groups, the Progressive Democrats. Notwithstanding his daughter's narrow loss last year, Jefferson remains the top dog among local African-American political figures. Nagin, on the other hand, probably has more influence among white voters in the metro area (including Jefferson Parish) than most if not all white politicos. He also enjoys enormous popularity among the city's growing black middle class. Between the two of them, Nagin and Jefferson pretty much cover every precinct in town.
That's great news for any gubernatorial candidate lucky enough to get their support, if they unite behind a single candidate. If they do, and if that candidate wins, then Nagin's early endorsement will be remembered as the Hail Mary play that got both men back into the game.
- Donn Young
Ray Nagin (pictured) and Bill Jefferson reportedly have buried the hatchet and may be uniting behind several candidates this season. As Humphrey Bogart once said, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Or, it could just be politics as usual.