Wednesday, March 01, 2006


This one won’t be decided by pollsters

by Terry O'Connor

The great fear today is New Orleans will not recover, that its leadership is not up to the gargantuan recovery task and the federal government won’t step to the plate.

Well, the feds have earmarked $10.6 billion to rebuild the state, which should push the recovery a long way. Haggle all you want over whether it’s enough but it’s a great start. New Orleans will recover if that money is properly spent.

Now, who will lead us to boom times?

Is it Mayor C. Ray Nagin, the idea man with no idea of how to implement plans politically? Is it favorite son Mitch Landrieu, who can become the first Caucasian mayor since his daddy, Maurice Edwin “Moon” Landrieu, left office in 1978 after eight years? Is it Ron Forman, the man lionized for elevating the Audubon Nature Institute? Is it the Rev. Thomas Watson, who has the most clout among African-Americans?

The mayoral election in New Orleans will revolve around matching the proposed visions of our would-be leaders to practical reality. This is one election that won’t be decided by pollsters declaring a winner before the ballots are counted. Pollsters don’t even know how to reach the far-flung electorate in this race.

This will be a race decided by issues — a novel idea in modern America where image is king and those with great family names are too often treated like royalty.

So far, the candidate with the most sweeping idea is former City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson. Her plan is to make New Orleans a tax-free magnet for businesses for seven years.

The four frontrunners in the mayoral race — perceived favorite Lt. Gov. Landrieu, Uptown golden boy Forman, likeable incumbent Nagin and the solid African-American alternative Watson — will all have to withstand slings and arrows from Rob Couhig, the brash attorney whose TV ads have already lampooned Landrieu as clankingly indecisive and “cuckoo” Nagin as not quite right. Yet headstrong Couhig has a whiff of Howard Dean about him, insiders say, and he may implode rather than take the race by storm. His TV ads are funny though and have generated more buzz than the drab, dated Forman TV pitches.

Whoever it is, the winning candidate must commit to a course of recovery that acknowledges risks but does not shrink from them. The winning candidate will possess the ability to think innovatively and implement creative plans. The next mayor must be capable of winning the fight that is the New Orleans recovery.

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