Dec 302013

Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

That old Morial magic still works.

When the invitations went out from National Urban League CEO Marc Morial’s office for a Friday luncheon at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, you could feel the stir in the political community. Last Friday, with the restaurant closed for the private event, there wasn’t an empty chair in the place.

Among those working the room were many of the candidates on the upcoming ballot in New Orleans, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu who stopped at every table to shake hands, and former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, Landrieu’s last-minute major opponent.

The Bagneris candidacy has turned what looked like a walk-over for Mayor Landrieu into a real race. But, keep in mind, no incumbent New Orleans mayor has been defeated since 1946. U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, who faces her own tough race, was also present as was U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, State Rep. and Council candidate Jared Brossett, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Councilmembers LaToya Cantrell and James Gray as well as James’ opponent Cynthia Willard-Lewis, and Eugene Green who is running against Stacy Head.

Also working the room was former Civil District Court Judge Nadine Ramsey who is running against Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson for the District C seat on the New Orleans Council. Among the other guests were the beautiful Michelle Morial, wife of the former mayor, who once was a star reporter for WWL-TV and now works for CBS-TV in New York. She had in tow their two children, both of whom were decked out and looking good.

We had a chance to sit down with the former mayor of New Orleans to talk about the tough issues that confront American cities today and the Urban League as well. “I get to travel across the country and the challenging issues in every major American city and smaller communities as well are unemployment and violence,” said Morial.

“In New Orleans, I know that the studies show that more than half the African-American males are unemployed. That’s tragic and I know it’s unacceptable to the city’s leaders. It’s a challenge on many different levels. The schools have to do better and I know that’s happening in New Orleans with the charter school revolution. But the question is are they impacting the boys and girls whose parents are disinterested or missing? We need an educational revolution in America that lifts every kid’s boat,” Morial continued.

“And, of course, I know that New Orleans’ incredible resiliency has spawned a remarkable economic recovery but, again, the question is has the economic comeback impacted the lives of those African-American males who are sitting on the sidelines, not in the game.”

Morial said that in every American city and town, there is a terrible link between unemployment and crime. Those who can’t find a job start looking for a job in the alternative economy – illegal drugs, guns and gangs.

The American economy seems to be slowly improving in every part of the country, Morial says, but those on the bottom of the economic pile are being impacted least. He pointed out, from his own experience as a New Orleans mayor, that every major project here – the Convention Center, the Superdome, Harrah’s Casino, the Arena – that has created thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs – has been undertaken with the assistance of the State of Louisiana.

Morial acknowledged it is sometimes difficult to traverse ideological lines that separate a Republican governor and a Democratic mayor, as in Louisiana, or vice versa in some other states. “It may be difficult but, in my experience, it is extremely difficult to put together a major public-private undertaking that creates both construction jobs and permanent jobs unless you’re working with the state,” he said. From Morial’s remarks it is clear that Louisiana’s next governor needs to be a friend to New Orleans.

Despite the difficult issues, Morial is optimistic about the future and believes that “the American spirit” is still alive and well from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico. “What I’ve realized as I travel the country is that despite our challenges and problems, we continue to be a great people –- resilient, tenacious, hard-working and optimistic. Of course, New Orleans leads the league in terms of comebacks and refusing to give up even in the face of the most awful circumstances,” Morial said. “Whenever someone decides Americans are ready to go down for the count, they’re wrong.”

Mayor’s race heats up
Mayor Landrieu was quick to get on the air with his first beautifully shot commercial featuring a gospel choir. We recall his last campaign spin that Katrina was over and we all needed to look toward the future. So why are we seeing Katrina images in this commercial? If you love Landrieu, you love the commercial; if you prefer Bagneris you probably think it is pandering to the African-American community. Landrieu has so much money to spend he can afford to air that commercial day and night every day. Bagneris should have his own spot up soon, if he has time to make one with all the fundraising he must be doing.

Though we are not privy to the specifics of Bagneris’ latest polling, which was done by Verne Kennedy, it must have shown that between voters who do not want to vote for a Landrieu (could be a code word for Republicans) and those who want to vote for an African-American, it would be possible to upset Landrieu’s reelection. With such a short window, Bagneris’ campaign, which has Clerk of Court Dale Atkins as its leader, must be flawless.

Let’s not forget that NAACP President Danatus King is still in the race. He is doing motorcades on Saturdays as an inexpensive way to get out in selected neighborhoods. King has also picked up some traction with his support for the family of the late Henry Glover, a tragedy no family should have to relive.

The Independent Women’s Organization, of which Danae is a member, will hold their endorsement forum next Tuesday night. Let’s see how all the candidates shape up. Many other forums, like ENONAC in New Orleans East, are already on the candidate’s schedules.

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. 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 council candidate Dana Kaplan.

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  • Deux amours

    The headline is not supported by the story. Perhaps you could have put down the delicious gumbo to actually take a note or quote Morial’s remarks that you remember.