In 12 days, a special election runoff in the race to succeed Karen Carter Peterson in Louisiana’s House District 93 will take place between a pair of Democrats with higher profiles than normal in a state legislative contest. But James Perry and Helena Moreno aren’t just better-known names than you’d expect from candidates running for State Representative; they represent two sides in a Democrat Party fight which has been boiling over for at least 15 years.
Moreno, a former newscaster for WDSU-TV in New Orleans, represents the Clintonite wing of the Democrat Party. She presents herself as a centrist or Mainstream Left candidate; a 1999 Mass Comm graduate from SMU, Moreno even worked in the Clinton White House as an intern to First Lady Hillary Clinton while spending a semester at American University. In March of 2008, though, Moreno developed a taste for politics and quit Channel 6 to run against William Jefferson for Congress; she managed to force Jefferson into a runoff election in the Democrat primary but lost, but many of Moreno’s supporters threw their weight behind Joseph Cao’s candidacy and helped the Republican finally unseat Dollar Bill. Since the 2008 election, Moreno has remained active in politics, working in Republican/Independent/Democrat John Georges’ campaign for mayor. Georges finished third with nine percent of the vote.
When Peterson opted to run for the open state Senate seat vacated by Cheryl Gray Evans and won, Moreno jumped into the District 93 race. Five other candidates joined the fray as well, including the eventual frontrunner in the primary, James Perry.
Perry bills himself as a “housing activist,” as his day job is as the Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. Of late, however, the Forest Whitaker lookalike has stepped up his ambitions; Perry ran for mayor in New Orleans and though he placed fifth he managed to give an impression of a young politician on the move.
Perry ran first in the April 26 primary with 38 percent of the vote, garnering 890 votes out of 2300 cast. Moreno was second with 643 votes, or 27 percent. District 93, which was the seat of former black trailblazer Avery Alexander, is now a majority white district due to outmigration from Treme and Central City due to Katrina and residential growth in the Warehouse District. The changeover in real estate from the shutdown of the St. Thomas Housing Projects and the resulting urban renewal – which Perry fought against – has also altered the demographics of the district.
Turnout is expected to be a good bit higher for the May 29 runoff. Developments in the race will likely make that turnout friendlier to Moreno.
Perry’s background as a traffic scofflaw has made him the subject of considerable media ridicule in the past week. As the Times-Picayune reported:
According to documents distributed by Moreno’s campaign, Perry has racked up 90 parking tickets and 42 traffic citations over the years, and he’s been held in contempt of court 14 times. He’s been caught driving without insurance. He’s been arrested twice, once for driving with a suspended license and tinted windows, and once for unlawful use of a license, failing to meet equipment requirements and, for good measure, not wearing his seat belt.
Perry’s response to the revelations was refreshing, though hardly helpful to his cause. “What can I say? I have a bad driving record,” he said.
The voluminous paper trail behind Perry’s rough driving record prompted the T-P to rescind an earlier endorsement they had made of Perry in the primary – with a rough treatment in their announcement:
“After reviewing documents and other information about James Perry’s driving record, we’re not convinced of Mr. Perry’s forthrightness during the endorsement process. Therefore, we are withdrawing our endorsement.”
Perry’s driving record also earned him a raspberry from columnist Chris Rose, whose entertaining piece last week included this:
Well, when the woman who does the fingerprinting at down at OPP asks you how your momma’s doing, maybe you need to slow down.
When you rush into the dormitory at Central Lockup because you know which beds have the softest mattresses – you might want to think about a remedial course in drivers’ education.
When you’re campaign slogan is: Go, Speed Racer, Go – you may want to rethink your career plans.
When you ask the parking enforcement division to give you a boot that matches your belt, you might want to start thinking about public transportation.
And when you have to request a rescheduling of a traffic court date because you have a prior appointment – in traffic court -maybe you need to chillax on the gas pedal.
And it shows us that Perry is the least environmental-friendly candidate for office; the amount of paper required to satisfy news organizations’ requests for his traffic rap sheet this week has been enough to wipe out half of the Kisatchie National Forest.
Moreno’s campaign was able to capitalize with an attack ad last week which jammed home Perry’s problems with a vengeance:
But while a lousy driving record is more of an embarrassment than a disqualification for Perry as The Hayride sees it, it’s his far-left record – a record and a positioning reminiscent of the radical background and leaning of the current president of the United States – which should give the district’s more upscale voters pause. Perry and his girlfriend, MSNBC analyst Melissa Harris Lacewell, penned a piece for The Nation last year which largely laid out his political philosophy by saying that the images of Katrina gave the Democrats a voice against President George W. Bush they wouldn’t otherwise have had, and because of that fact it’s incumbent upon President Obama to repay the city by pushing legislation which would promote affordable housing in New Orleans, among other things.
Perry’s policy trail conforms to the spirit of the Nation article. He commissioned a study in 2005 aiming to prove that Bourbon Street bars were racist in the aftermath of a much-publicized racially-charged incident outside of one establishment where white bouncers beat a black patron, who later died. Perry also fought the demolition of the St. Bernard Housing Projects, an effort which resulted in a near riot at City Hall in 2007. Perry has testified against demolition of housing projects in front of the Senate Banking Committee, and his organization has gone to court to stop St. Bernard Parish from banning new construction of multi-family housing on grounds that the parish is racist for doing so.
It’s therefore not a surprise to see that Perry is the endorsed candidate of the Service Employees International Union in the District 93 race. His Facebook page also (at least at one time) found itself friended by infamous Iron Rail Book Collective members Dylan Barr, Joanna Dubinsky and Daniel Mauch – a relationship, however tenuous, which likely arose from Perry’s efforts to force the reopening of Charity Hospital, yet another hard-Left cause with which he has been involved.
In other words, at the state capitol Perry will likely to be as forceful an advocate for socialism New Orleans-style as he’ll be a holy terror on I-10 on the way from his district to Baton Rouge. If the voters of District 93 are OK with a “progressive” a la Barack Obama representing them, they should ignore Perry’s driving record and be careful on the highway if they’re traveling to Baton Rouge for fear he might be on the road. But if a more moderate voice would be preferable, regardless of his stack of tickets Perry is the wrong guy for the district, the city and the state.