As is often the case, last week's three-day qualifying period for the Feb. 6 citywide elections was a time of surprise and angst. The late qualifying decisions of Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Councilman at large Arnie Fielkow produced lots of both.
Landrieu's 11th-hour change of heart about running for mayor surprised many voters and politicos — and gave his opponents a huge case of angst. Fielkow's delayed decision to qualify for re-election to his City Council at-large seat — after first bowing out of mayoral contention in September — gave his most ardent supporters equal doses of angst. Fielkow's vacillation also was surprising, given his definitive statement in September that he wanted to remain in public office.
Landrieu's reversal last week of his July decision not to run for mayor was a throwback to his dithering in late 2005 before he finally entered the 2006 mayor's race. Back then, at least, he hinted all along that he might run, which effectively kept his donors from making commitments to other candidates.
This time, Landrieu's initial announcement that he would not run effectively freed his longtime friends and financiers to get involved in other campaigns. Most did. When he started calling around to let them know he might reconsider, reactions were mixed. Many told him flat-out that they would not leave the candidates to whom they had made commitments. Others were thrilled that he might run after all.
I suspect the reaction among voters will be mixed as well, at least at first. Landrieu's first challenge as a candidate will be to put to rest the notion in many people's minds that he's indecisive. He should start by giving a full explanation, not a quick dismissal, of his flip-flop about running for mayor.
Some decisions, of course, are so momentous that they ought to be pondered deliberately. The question of whether to run for mayor is certainly momentous, but once it is answered with what appears to be some finality — particularly by someone who, in his own words, has been down this path twice before — what does it say about that candidate when he later reverses course and says he does, after all, really want the job?
It's ironic that Landrieu, throughout his career, has shown singular boldness on major issues yet ran a tepid, even wimpy campaign against Ray Nagin four years ago. As a state representative, he helped craft some of the most far-reaching legislation of the past 20 years. It is axiomatic that candidates govern pretty much as they campaign. Landrieu's off-again, on-again decision to run telegraphs what he will be like as a mayor. His singular test as a candidate, therefore, will be to convince voters that he can and will be bold — and decisive — on the big issues.
In the at-large race, Fielkow's last-minute indecision reflects not so much his inability to make up his mind as much as the toll that family and financial pressures can take on a public official. Fielkow gave up a big private-sector paycheck to seek public office. During his first term on the council, he and his wife adopted two children. They have three older children as well. The adoptions changed things considerably for Fielkow, but it's not as if the size of his family suddenly grew in the past few months. In fact, the council got a significant raise — with Fielkow's help — in the recent past. So why the last-minute indecision?
Fielkow's challenge will be to answer that question with conviction. Like Landrieu, he faces stiff competition, and how both men respond to the challenges — and angst — they brought upon themselves will determine their chances of success.
GAMBIT & MAPLE STREET BOOKSHOP PRESENT
You ask the Questions... the candidates give their answers
Questions currently being asked to the mayoral candidates
The candidates will begin answering on January 6th