Apr 102017

Le Krewe d’Etat lampooned Sidney Torres IV on Napoleon Avenue on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (UptownMessenger.com file photo by Robert Morris)

Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

Do you smell that in the air? If it reeks of a festering mound of equine excrement, it’s a safe bet that you’re either ankle deep in the leavings of a police horse, or the mayoral race is ramping up.

If it’s the latter, don’t fret – you still have plenty of time to ponder the election. Qualification actually begins in July, but District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, an establishment politician if there ever was one, has already thrown her hat into the ring. Cantrell’s website proffers some hackneyed drivel about the “two truths” of New Orleans, but only offers her usual brand of superficial sop.

Dark horse candidate Edward Bruski has also announced, spawning an enticing campaign slogan: “Isn’t it time for a Bruski?” The Bruski campaign’s raison d’être appears to be reversing the failures of the Landrieu Administration, a Sisyphean task if there ever was one.

Others are playing it more coy. State Rep. Walter Leger III, a.k.a. the exact opposite of a self-made man, is also expected to announce soon. State Sen. Troy Carter and Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet each purport to be on the fence, which is another way of saying that they’re unsure of their prospects (i.e., timid).

The biggest question mark, however, continues to hover over the greased-back, mustachioed visage of Sidney D. Torres IV. Many descriptions apply to Torres – garbage magnate, scion of wealth, reality television star, insufferable narcissist – and those are just the ones that TMZ has also applied to Lauren Conrad. Some have dubbed the tacky Chalmation “Trashanova.”

If nothing else, the fact that Torres’ name is being bandied about for mayor reveals two disturbing truths: 1) New Orleans is overly insular and often corrupt; and,2 ) American culture generally continues to value style over substance.

You see, Torres rose to prominence from a wealthy, politically-connected family. After Katrina hit and the city fired Waste Management as its exclusive trash vendor, Torres managed to claim a slice of the pie for his trash firm, SDT (his initials). Torres secured choice bits for himself, including the French Quarter.

However, SDT’s ascendance was not a case of a young buck full of vim and vigor garnering success through the good ol’ free enterprise system. The new trash contracts coincided with a doubling of trash fees for homeowners, and locally-connected vendors like SDT yielded the benefits. The contracts were ridiculously generous and the subject of major public controversy.

Glibly speaking, the term “rent-seeking” was invented for precisely this scenario.

Nevertheless, Torres’ true passion appeared to be cultivating personal celebrity. He garnered endorsements for SDT from erstwhile employer Lenny Kravitz and notorious garbage person Kid Rock. Moreover, TLC aired a pilot for a reality series starring Torres vis-à-vis the operations of SDT titled “Trashmen” in 2010 (although TLC wisely opted not to go through with a full series).

In 2011, Torres sold off SDT to the company that became Progressive Waste Solutions. However, Torres continued his previous endeavors in real estate, and eventually founded a private investment firm, IV Capital. Still, he couldn’t stay out of the trash business for long (which may or may not be a metaphor for his entire life), and founded another trash company, IV Waste, in 2016.

Nevertheless, Torres was tortured by the specter of his true passion – personal celebrity – and wound up entangled in another reality TV series. “The Deed,” which aired its first episode on March 1, 2017, features Torres and another developer as experts who utilize their time and cash to help struggling property investors. He’s basically our own Donald Trump, though lacking political office.

That’s not to say that Torres hasn’t made his political ambitions clear. In March of 2015, Torres launched a public-private partnership to provide additional security to the French Quarter dubbed the “French Quarter Task Force.” The entire concept was seemingly designed to convince New Orleanians that Torres could manage crime better than the city. The task force remains, although it is now funded through hotel taxes.

Despite the fact that Torres is no longer the chief benefactor of security in the Quarter, it has remained his basic shtick. Torres’ only cause seems to be beefing up French Quarter security. He apparently lacks any other comprehensive platform.

While we definitely need a breath of fresh air in the mayoral election, it won’t be coming from the likes of Torres. Indeed, Torres represents the problems New Orleans should be striving to defeat. Outsiders tend to view New Orleans as a city where connections are more important than merit, where low-level corruption is tolerated as part of the cost of doing business. We need to be negating these assumptions, not confirming them.

Something smells, and it’s only going to get worse. We don’t need some dilettante celebrity to tell us that. What we need is a fix, and that isn’t forthcoming from City Hall.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  16 Responses to “Owen Courreges: Is Sidney Torres the Donald Trump of the New Orleans mayor’s race?”

  1. Quite obvious your article is out to “trash” Sidney Torres IV. Most people don’t share your views of what he has accomplished to date.

    • Susan,

      That’s fair enough. There’s a lot of information out there about Torres, and people can decide for themselves.

    • Most people I know will always think of him as the guy who bought a house next to a live music venue and started suing them…..for playing live music. That and the shady trash contracts means he is not wanted by a lot of people I know.

  2. Mr Courreges,
    I do not know you but generally agree with your points of view concerning local issues. I would, however disagree with your assessment of Mr Torres. While I have not seen him personally in a few years, I have had the pleasure of doing business with him over the years. I have seen him grow, regardless of his family ties, through hard work and determination. He has never been anything but polite and professional. Oh, and quite successful on his own merits.
    I, for one, would welcome his work ethic and business experience as a refreshing alternative to another lifelong politician.

    • Static,

      I don’t mean to suggest that Torres hasn’t proven himself to be a competent businessman. Even those born into wealth and influence need to be savvy to expand their wealth and notoriety. However, nothing about the original sanitation contract under Nagin was appropriate, and Torres was one of the primary beneficiaries of that deal at the public’s expense. It doesn’t make me want to make him mayor.

      I didn’t get into it in this piece, but I also have major reservations about his security proposals, one of which was to make Bourbon Street accessible only through secure checkpoints with metal detectors. We do need a refreshing perspective, but that isn’t it.

  3. Well, I rarely agree with you, but I think you’re right about Mr. Torres being wrong for the job. My question is, who do you think would be able to do the job? You don’t seem keen on anyone you mentioned.

    • Linda,

      I’m not fond of any of the major candidates. Bruski seems to have a good platform, although he’s a long shot.

  4. I hardly ever agree with you Owen, but on your assessment of Torres I whole heartedly agree.

  5. A key problem in this City, although oft ignored, is the insular old-line business community. They have spent decades fighting hard to keep competition out. They “successfully” sent numerous entrepreneurs (including African Americans) to Houston and Atlanta. They support all of the duplicative local “committees” that drown so many projects in massive amounts of red tape. Let’s not forget these are the characters who gave us Nagin. Most business is run through the Pickwick Club or the Krewe of Comus. Socially, outsiders are ostracized. So they pick up and go somewhere else.
    Get a candidate who will break up this monopoly and you’ll get to the essence of the problems in New Orleans.
    Regarding Torres, I am not so harsh on him as is Owen. Yes, he used connections etc. But he’d be better than a lot of the usual suspects. And he isn’t from old-time NOLA lineage….his family were St Bernard politicos.

  6. I would love Torres to become our mayor over other standard pols bc he actually gets stuff done, but it’s pointless to write an article about it bc it will never happen. Latoya will most likely win. She has 35% of the electorate vote locked up (black women) & she is popular with many other groups as well.

  7. I hope Sidney Torres does run for Mayor as he would clean up the corruption within not only city hall but all areas of local government, as for the numb nut who wrote this article you sound like a true Liberal Democrat who is still suffering from the #SnowFlakeFlu get over it loser!

  8. Sidney Torres is a amazing person and would make a great Mayor

  9. It is very odd to me that we are even discussing the possibility of Torres as mayor, but I guess in this age, any vainglorious reality TV egomaniac sees themselves as a potential political executive. We don’t know what his political positions would be, although judging by his actions they seem to be something along the lines of making the french quarter a police state and clamping down on live music.

    It’s really disturbing that voters are so gullible that they can fall for hucksters like Torres who promise that, by simple virtue of the fact that they are not politicians, they will be good politicians, but Donald Trump is president so I suppose I shouldn’t give voters much credit.

  10. Made a sketch about this last month with the same conclusion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHnrMH-pwzs

  11. A one party election is not an election. I’m unsure why state Republicans don’t field a serious candidate, given that crime, infrastructure, the economy, and monument attacks are the major problems in this city and they are strong on all four issues. Torres talks and dresses like a girl, but might be the best candidate simply for the fact that he isn’t currently a local politician. While making stupid mistakes as a political novice, he might sometimes do something very right, as with Trump. Cantrell and the others openly advocate and promote evil ideas. Cannizzaro is a crazy radical who wants to take my guns, yet he also is more serious about crime than the others. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

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