Starring the great American actor Daniel Day Lewis, “Lincoln” is about courage and leadership. In the movie, Lincoln is pulling together all the pieces necessary to pass the 13th Amendment, ending slavery in America. And what a highly charged struggle it was, in the midst of a most horrible war in which 600,000 Americans on both sides lost their lives and countless more lost limbs. In classic political fashion, Lincoln and his top aides were doing whatever was necessary to secure the magic number of votes needed.
It took courage for the slim majority (mostly Republicans!) to stand up for something they knew in their hearts was the right thing to do even though the legislators sitting next to them probably opposed the amendment, many because they needed slaves to work their plantations.
Lincoln in his personal life was fighting with his oldest son who wanted to join the Union Army and with his wife who had seen two of her younger sons die. Mary Todd Lincoln was putting tremendous personal emotional pressure on Lincoln to keep their oldest son from enlisting. So how did he keep his shaky political coalition together at a time when all the participants are threatening to walk on him because this detail or that detail isn’t perfect?
We both appreciated this movie because we’ve personally seen leaders in moments of extreme pressure somehow keep their cool and achieve their goals.
As a reporter, Allan saw then-mayor Moon Landrieu, entrepreneur Dave Dixon and then-Governor John McKeithen pull together a very shaky coalition that passed the legislation, provided the funding and then built the Louisiana Superdome. Without the Superdome, soon to host the 2013 Super Bowl, New Orleans would be a much different place in the worst way. But the Superdome bill almost went down in political flames on several occasions. Landrieu was the firefighter, the strategist and the steady one who always just barely managed to extinguish the flames and keep the project alive.
Landrieu created all kinds of temporary coalitions. He brought the Jefferson Parish power brokers on board. With McKeithen’s invaluable help, he somehow fashioned a coalition with the anti-New Orleans North Louisiana power brokers and he kept the reins on the brilliant but erratic Dixon who could be a loose cannon.
In the end, against all odds, the Superdome rose on Poydras Street. It was the first major new building in New Orleans since the 1930s and Allan will tell you that it could not have been done without the leadership of Mayor Moon Landrieu, with whom Allan frequently fought back in those days.
Danae saw leadership up close when she was on the staff of Mayor Dutch Morial. She was one of Dutch’s political operatives and what she remembers most vividly is that Dutch – like Lincoln in the movie – would not take no for an answer.
Dutch always had a hundred deals in the works at all times and kept his closest advisers scrambling on the details, Danae remembers. If you were in that number, you’d better not fail. “Don’t come back here and whine that the obstacles are too great or the bar has been set too high to be leaped. Show some imagination. Find a way,” Dutch would always say.
The passage of the 13th Amendment ushered in a new era of freedom, liberty, equality and justice. Not everyone agrees that enough has been done to make those goals a full reality, but it’s a tremendous change from the 1860s. Hopefully, like us, you’ll think of some leaders who accomplished seemingly impossible tasks against all the odds — just like Abe, Moon and Dutch did in their respective times — and raise your glass in thanks!
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. Columbus is a paid consultant to the Dana Kaplan campaign, and they both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. Robert Billiot.