The conventional wisdom is that former Governor Edwin W. Edwards can’t be serious about running for the open seat in the Sixth Congressional District or, if he is serious, has no chance to win.
The 86-year-old Silver Fox, still looking good and as engaging as ever, made it as clear as he could at a recent reception that drew hundreds of his Metro New Orleans friends that he is running, expects to run first in the Nov. 4 primary and believes he’ll have a chance in the Dec. 6 runoff against whichever Republican comes out of a crowd of candidates to take him on in the general election.
His critics say that it is incredible that Edwards, who just completed an eight-year prison stint in a federal pen three years ago, could actually have a chance to go to Congress. “I’m eighty-six years old, going on 87, and I have a right to do what I want to do. After eight years of existing in an un-air conditioned dormitory, I want to do what I enjoy and this what I enjoy the most. I’m fortunate to be in good health and filled with enthusiasm both for the campaign and, if all goes well, for a return to the U.S. House of Representatives.” Edwards served three terms in the House before being elected governor the first time in 1972.
The party for Edwards, held at the Desi Vega Steak House at the Lafayette Hotel, drew a tremendous crowd for an event whose organizers just had 10 days’ notice from Edwards that he would like to hold a shindig in New Orleans to let his old and new friends know that he was in the race for Congress with the intention of winning. He also appeared on Angela Hill’s radio show earlier that day.
Lots of Edwards friends came with stories including WestBank restaurateur George Rainey who worked with Edwards to resolve a Krewe of Zulu issue decades ago. A small group of women of Asian descent who had not met Edwards previously called the experience a great “ladies’ night out.” “Who wouldn’t want to meet Edwin Edwards,” another man proclaimed.
Edwards had raised $33,000 prior to the Desi Vega soiree and he picked up a bunch of checks from admirers who came from every parish in the metro area. However, Edwards’ will surely have an uphill way to go against Garrett Graves, a buddy of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has raised more than $300,000. Another big name in the race is Paul Dietzel, the son of the late LSU football coach and athletic director, who has raised more than $100,000.
Sitting down with Allan for a half-hour interview that will run on Louisiana Newsmaker on the Cox Cable channels this weekend, Edwards in his typical way is unworried by the opposition. “Most of my opponents are running for the first time and are unknown outside of their families and immediate best friends,” he says. “For better or worse, everyone – even the youngest voters – knows who Edwin Edwards is.”
With his usual smile, Edwards says that there is always a good chance the Republican Party of Louisiana will give him a Tea Party nut case in the runoff he can run circles around, as he did in the 1991 “Vote For The Crook, It’s Important” gubernatorial election against Klansman David Duke. (Edwards won that one, 62 percent to 38 percent).
If Edwards were to win, he would be the first 87-year-old freshman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Noting that his parents and grandparents were all long-lived, Edwards says he plans on living to be 105 and serving several terms in Congress. “I’m fortunate to have inherited great genes,” he says. “I don’t smoke, drink alcohol or run around with beautiful women other than my wife Trina. She has also assigned me to babysit with our two-year-old son, Eli, when I’m not campaigning.”
Edwards acknowledges part of his challenge is to introduce himself to a new generation of voters. “I think voters of all ages will respond to my pragmatism,” he says. “Unlike my Republican opponents, I don’t hate the members of the other party. I like centrist Republicans and centrist Democrats. My goal in Congress would be to bring about a middle-of-the-road coalition that cares more about creating jobs for Americans than scoring ideological points. Extreme Republicans and extreme Democrats are ruining government. They hate each other and can never find common ground. When I was in Congress before, in the 1960s, most of us got along and we got things done in the national interest.”
One of the things that Edwards most wants to get done is the Keystone pipeline that would run from Canada to Louisiana. Edwards is furious at President Barack Obama who has held up the pipeline deal that Edwards says would create thousands of new, good-paying jobs in Louisiana and the Gulf South. Also, look for Edwards to say some scathing things on the campaign trail about Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“Is he really governor of Louisiana?” asks Edwards. “He certainly doesn’t spend much time here. I think he wants to be governor of Florida or California or Minnesota. Whoever our next governor is will have a helluva challenge restoring our higher education system and health care to where they were before Jindal became governor.”
Although the Sixth Congressional District is considered Republican country today, Edwards says it wasn’t very long ago that the Sixth was electing Democrats. He believes he’ll find enough middle-of-the-road voters in the district who will want to listen to what he has to say. Of course, Edwards has always done well with Cajun and African-American voters, both of whom are important segments of the electorate if they can be persuaded to vote as a bloc for an aspiring Democrat, even one who will be 90 in 2017.
“I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve had a history of winning elections where the conventional wisdom has been that I didn’t have a chance,” says Edwards. “If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t count out Edwin Edwards.”
Fabulous French Quarter Festival bodes well for New Orleans tourism
What a wonderful French Quarter Festival! It drew more than 800,000 locals and visitors, filled the hotels, the restaurants, the shops and the streets. The New Orleans Police did their usual superb job of crowd control and more than 800 musicians – most of them local – performed brilliantly. Executive Director Marci Schram did her usual superlative job of running the shindig.
Allan and Danae can remember when the first French Quarter Festival was just getting underway. Allan covered the event in the 1980s for The Times-Picayune and Danae was working with the Decatur Street businessowners. She remembers sitting in the conference room of the brilliant young entrepreneur and riverfront pioneer Darryl D. Berger as the brilliant and beautiful Sandra Dartus, the first executive director of the French Quarter Festival, outlined her client’s plans for the event. That was more than 30 years ago. Much credit also goes to the late Mayor Dutch Morial and then District C Councilman Mike Early. None of its proponents then could have dreamed then what a magnificent festival the French Quarter Festival would become today, and, hopefully, even bigger and better in the future.
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 council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.