After a week of fallout from Ed Murray’s withdrawal from the New Orleans mayor’s race and the conventional wisdom mounting that Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu was now a heavy favorite to win, one of the minor candidates in the race has now emerged at the head of the line.
Troy Henry, a businessman making his first run at a political office, is an engineer by background and reputedly a fairly smart individual. As such, Henry does math pretty well. Today, Henry proved it.
As we discussed in our previous treatment of the mayor’s race, when Murray cited the pitfalls of a racially-divisive campaign against Landrieu it was an absurd rationale for quitting the campaign. New Orleans’ electorate is some 60 percent black and the 15 percent of Orleans Parish which is Republican will vote for ANYONE other than Landrieu. Thus an African-American candidate who is remotely tolerable to white business people and what passes for conservatives in the city needs only to pull about three-fifths of the black vote against Mitch and he wins going away.
After all, if Ray Nagin could do it four years ago, almost ANYBODY can.
Henry has figured this out.
By firing a broadside at “the media,” which in New Orleans (and particularly since Nagin’s endless harangues at the local press and TV operators) tends to be code for “whitey,” Henry has killed several birds with one stone.
First, he’s the first of the “post-fix” mayoral candidates to generate headlines, and given that Landrieu’s opponents following Murray’s exit are a collection of political nobodies – including John Georges, who has lots of money but almost zero appeal to any constituency in the city – that’s crucial. Nobody knew who Henry was before; now at least he’s got some buzz going.
Second, by making the waves he made today Henry has sent out a message to the black community that he’s the guy willing to play to the animosities and entitlements that community feels about politics in general and the mayor’s office specifically. Nagin has been singing this ditty for the better part of seven years in office now, and it works for him virtually every time. In fact, playing the race card and offering the subtle message that since New Orleans is a Chocolate City it should have a chocolate mayor is, for whatever you might think of the moral implication of it, a winner.
So when Henry decries “the media” anointing a white guy as the city’s next mayor, it’s a not-so-subtle appeal to the black community: Hey, they’re going to take this away from us. Don’t let them do it. Sure, it’s ridiculous, and gratuitous to boot. Henry mentioned the other two black candidates, James Perry and Nadine Ramsey, as though they agreed with him. Perry blasted him for it, and as such Henry looks like a buffoon for overreaching. But looking like a buffoon is hardly fatal when you’re running for mayor of New Orleans.
WWL-TV found a couple of political analysts in the Big Easy who validate the strategy. Pollster Greg Rigamer says that the city’s 153,000 likely voters break down at about 59-34 black to white, and then offers this…
“Now, we have a phenomenon in the race, where the leading African American candidate has dropped out and the remaining African American candidates are not polling significantly,” Rigamer said. “So, there’s a question about the level of interest in the race, within the African American community.”
Dillard University poli sci professor Dr. Gary Clark goes even further…
“This position as mayor of the city of New Orleans is not only a position of a huge amount of power, but it’s also a position that has a symbolic means. It is symbolic when it comes to the African American community,” said Dr. Gary Clark, chairperson of the political science department at Dillard University.
Clark said, with State Sen. Ed Murray leaving the mayoral race, the remaining African American candidates need to galvanize the black vote, in order to have a chance at the runoff.
“They have got to win over and consolidate the black vote. That is absolutely imperative,” Clark said. “It’s not their job now to engage in crossover votes. They’ve got to consolidate the vote, to make sure they are in a position that they can be in the runoff.”
The race might get really interesting.
Murray, who had the endorsement of the Greater New Orleans Republicans before pulling out, either didn’t have the stomach for a racial campaign or was too invested in the Democrat political machine to fight the Democrat National Committee’s preference for extending the Landrieu dynasty and rebuilding the old Morial political machine as a vehicle to re-elect Mitch’s sister in 2014.
Henry, on the other hand, is showing that he’s ballsy/independent/nuts enough to fight “City Hall.” If it looks like he’s viable, he’s also likely to inherit Murray’s GNOR endorsement as well, which picks him up 15 percent of the electorate. And strangely enough, since the Republicans would sooner vote in Osama bin Laden than Mitch Landrieu – they’ve seen that movie before and didn’t care for it, plus the Landrieu name is mud after the Louisiana Purchase health care vote – coming off like the Second Coming of Louis Farrakhan probably does him more good than harm with the GOP voters.
Whether he can raise enough money to get into the runoff is a question, but if he can, and this strategy plays out the way it did four years ago when Nagin used it, Henry might find himself a Cinderella story in City Hall. And Landrieu will be looking at his political oblivion having failed a third time to get elected mayor with the entire national Democrat Party apparatus pulling for him.