The Color of 3T
African-American voters in large numbers defied election myths and racial stereotypes to reject Mayor Marc Morial's ballot initiative to allow him to seek a third term, says Ron Nabonne, president of the opposition group Citizens to Save Our Charter.
"That's what I am most proud about in this election," says Nabonne, who is African-American, of black support for the charter provision limiting all mayors to two four-year terms.
Morial's 3T effort to change the city charter lost by a landslide, 61 to 39 percent. Voter turnout citywide was 36 percent. The Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office did not have final figures available on black and white voter turnout by late last week. Nabonne estimates 39 percent of black voters and 94 percent of white voters opposed Morial's Proposition A.
"We knew turnout in the white precincts was higher," Nabonne says. "And in the black precincts where turnout was high, we knew they were middle-class and better-educated blacks who would exceedingly vote no."
While the mayor's campaign was well-funded, disciplined and motivated, Morial got all the black vote he could get, adds Nabonne, a veteran political consultant. "I think we prevailed because we had a stronger message, a more focused message and a more consistent message. We knew from turnout that the dynamics were in our favor."
Nabonne also rejected the expressed fear that the Morial campaign machine would turn out a massive vote from low-income black precincts. "I think that is a myth, a stereotype to be honest with you," Nabonne says angrily. "I hear that in almost every election, the 'monolithic black vote' and how 'sheep-ish' we are. As someone who is actually in politics, it's insulting to me. It's insulting to most blacks.
"What impressed me the most was the intelligence of the voters -- black and white. Obviously, there were some racist white voters. But I think most blacks and most whites made a decision based on philosophies, government principles and not personalities."
Nabonne said the 3T campaign played "the racial card" during the final week, noting that commercials appeared on black radio declaring that white Republicans were behind the movement to preserve the charter. In addition, pro-3T campaign flyers appeared in African-American neighborhoods mentioning white supremacist David Duke, Nabonne says. "It got real messy," he says, "but I think black voters saw through that."
Nabonne rejects the theory that a large number of black voters stayed away from the polls because they didn't want to vote against a black mayor but also didn't want to change the charter. "Most of them who didn't vote, just didn't care," he says. He also suggests the get-out-the-vote ability of the Morial campaign machine has been exaggerated over the years.
Meanwhile, Loyola University pollster Ed Renwick says a sampling of largely black and largely white precincts shows only 7 percent of whites and 61 percent of blacks supported Morial's charter change. "He needed 75 percent black support to win," Renwick says, adding that Morial's effort to increase his black vote was hampered by two socio-economic factors: a rising black middle class and the demolition of housing developments, from which past Morial campaigns were able to draw large numbers of votes.
Pollster Silas Lee, who conducted surveys for the Morial campaign, says his samplings of black precincts showed 37 to 40 percent of African Americans opposed changing the charter. "Overall voter turnout was about the same," Lee says. "But the [racial] differential in turnout crucified 3T." He notes that in 1983 and again in 1985, 40 percent of black voters opposed charter-change efforts by Morial's late father, Mayor Dutch Morial.
Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti last week made a brief appearance at a City Park fundraiser for state Sen. Paulette Irons, sparking buzz about who the powerful sheriff might support for mayor in the Feb. 2 elections. But the sheriff himself says he attended the event simply because he was invited. He adds that no one should read anything into a Foti sighting for other political candidates.
"At the present time, the only race I have definitely decided on is criminal sheriff," Foti says with a laugh. He adds he can't say how much money his campaign has in the bank, because he has not checked lately. The sheriff's campaign had $1.1 million in funds on hand at the end of 2000, according to a report filed with the Louisiana Ethics Commission by Foti's campaign treasurer on Feb. 15, 2001.
The sheriff is running for re-election to a sixth consecutive six-year term in office. Foti was first elected in 1973. "I'm really not in a political mode yet," says Foti, who supported Mayor Marc Morial's failed bid for a third term in the Oct. 20 referendum. Foti says he will tend to politics probably some time after Christmas. No word yet has reached Gambit Weekly of any serious opposition. Ike Spears, who pondered a run at the sheriff earlier this year, has signed on as campaign director for mayoral candidate Sen. Paulette Irons.