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.