LA-2: Race in the race

One of the dynamics I've had a tough time understanding since arriving in New Orleans is how Karen Carter has been defined as "the white candidate," when both are in fact African American.  In the primary, Jefferson was selected by a thin plurality of voters in precincts were 50 to 75 percent of voters are black (Carter came in 2nd).  In precincts with 75% plus African American registered voters, Jefferson just barely missed a majority at 49.5% of the vote (Carter 3rd).  Again, that's with 13 candidates.  Carter, by contrast, cleaned up in precincts where less than 25% of the registered voters were black -- her only real competition coming from the Republican, who she narrowly outpaced.   William Jefferson received 5.7% of the total vote in those precincts.    

But back to this business about the "white candidate," its origins in the current political landscape, and why it's important.  First of all, there's always Katrina.

Prior to the Gulf's intrusion, though, New Orleans was more than two-thirds black and 462,000 residents strong, with more than half registered to vote. It's still difficult to say with any certainty how many people have come back for good, but Democrats are all too aware that the area around New Orleans's Ninth Ward remains empty.

There are good people like Dr. Ernest Johnson over at the NAACP working tirelessly to make sure folks who haven't returned are able to vote as easily as possible.  But displaced New Orleanian voters (or lack of) were quite possibly a determining factor in the recent Mayor's race, and remain a wildcard in this election and the 2007 cycle.

(More on the political football that is the displaced voter soon)  

Even with the $90,000 in a freezer, Jefferson probably walks to re-election if Katrina had never happened -- but Katrina is everything here.  First, his lost committee seat is so important is because it impacts his ability to deliver for a district in desperate need of delivery.  Second, black voters vote for Jefferson (as the numbers above show), shake-down allegations be damned.  But current demographic mathematics are not favorable to him.  A lot of his voters are just gone, and despite the best efforts of people like Dr. Johnson it's not easy to get people voting in a local election when they are scattered across the country.  

I suspect Jeffery at Library Chronicles is on point with his analysis of how the racial divide/"white candidate" meme has been perpetuated.

New Orleanians, particularly in the black community, have (with good reason) come to view much of what has developed post-Katrina as part of a conspiracy to radically alter the demographics, and character of the city disenfranchising and dispossesing the poorest among us in order to create a smaller, quieter, whiter New Orleans. [...]

On the one hand, by playing the federal investigations of his activities as a federal witch hunt tied to the anti-New Orleans conspiracy, he establishes himself as the "black" candidate. (Both candidates are, in fact African-American.. thus the quotes.) Jefferson has made other inroads in this direction by pandering to local ministers through some uncharacteristic complaints about his opponent's pro-abortion and gay rights stances. Social issues like these have never been part of Jefferson's platform and don't usually figure at all in New Orleans politics.. but it will help get Dollar Bill access to a solid GOTV mechanism in the ministers.

As close to the ground level as possible, Jefferson's campaign asserts that pending federal charges are indeed a racially motivated witch-hunt.  Albeit unscientific, but literally to a man, every African-American claiming to pay close attention to the race has echoed those sentiments.  Other numbers I've seen point to similar findings.  For a number of reasons that extend beyond the conspiracy charge, the $90,000 just isn't part of the calculus among African-Americans who overwhelmingly support Jefferson.  A lot of black voters see Jefferson as their Congressman, someone that has delivered in the past, and the 90k just isn't important in the grand scheme of things.  The latter is most certainly true, until you start talking about committees...  

Meanwhile, white folks in the 2nd generally believe Jefferson is totally corrupt, unable to deliver for the city, and part of them problem in Washington, D.C.

The racial divide and conquer has a well-established template in the recently concluded Mayor's race between Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu.  Who will forget Nagin's comment on the Martin Luther King holiday, "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans." Nagin won his first election with "near universal support from white voters," but managed to score 80% of the black vote in his re-election campaign.  And those white voters who ushered him to victory four years ago?  They totally flipped and went 80% for his opponent this time around.  In this race, Jefferson is attempting to build a similar voting coalition to Nagin's, while the folks who funded the Mayor's re-election campaign are backing Karen Carter, and the Mayor is endorsing William Jefferson.  Figure that out ...

Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Karen Cater, LA-2, William Jefferson (all tags)



Re: LA-2: Race in the race

I don't think there's anything new about an African American being thought of by some as "the white candidate". We have that in DC pretty often (and we also have people concerned about "The Plan" to turn DC into a white city).

by KCinDC 2006-11-24 11:56AM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

Being labeled "White" here means anything that's different from what people know. When I decided to go to college, and then to law school, I was told that I was trying to "act white" because most of my family had no experience with the things I wanted, or the way I talked, or interacted. When gay issues are brought up in the black gay community, one can hear this claim of trying to be "white" by straight and gay blacks a like if it's counter to what they are trying to accomplish (whether that is being in the closet or pretending there are no gays in the black community).

The thing is that it is a slur designed to shut down discussion. If you are hearing that, you need to realize they are trying to block off any discussion about the person at hand. Here it's a Rovian ju-jitsu to make it impossible for a discussion of the candidate's, who is making the slurs, flaws. Once it worms its way into the conversation it becomes harder to argue your position because it's all emotion, and is based primarily on historic distrust that white people through black surrougates (think Thomas Clarence) are trying to hurt the black community even more than they already have. It's Rovian becuase a) it need not be true b) it's design to shut down rather than promote discussion.

My advice- I am not from NOLA- so take it with grain of salt. It the discussion head on. Go on black media outlets. Talk to people in down to earth non equivocating terms. Don't act like its not a factor. Don't call the concerns ludicrious. Simply address them, preferably with the person making the claim around, and use street creds to do so but not in a condescending way.

It's a tough battle to fight. Often, people who are labeled as "acting white" are on the losing end of the battle because, it's not an argument based in rational discourse. It's based in fear. No matter how many times you tell a wingnut that Saddam wasn't behind 9/11 many of them will still believe its true. The same is true here.

by bruh21 2006-11-24 12:10PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

Also- by the way- realize that down in NOLA- according to some of my black friends w/ family there- this issue of whites trying to take over is a real one. unless things have chanced since the spring, one of the issue is that there are efforts at least through the unofficial avenues that we get news to hear that the govt is comign into buy up black people's property. To push out black families- including the black middle class, what there is of it there. Nagin was not far off from the truth. The reaction of AAs to hearing that Nagin was somehow wrong to bring this up was probably to see this as yet another attempt to pretend that the concerns that blacks have are not 'real concerns." Treat them as real concerns, listen, and try to find solutions to these issues. Again, I have no other experience other than being black, having to address the whole you are "crazy" or "have a chip in your shoulder" etc rather than admit that the concerns are real.

by bruh21 2006-11-24 12:18PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

One major factor is the demographics have changed. There is a lot of political hype about recovery, returns, etc. but the cold reality is that New Orleans and Louisiana (and Mississippi too) will be a radically different place for decades to come if not forever. For the majority of former residents there are few if any feasible options that would allow them to rebuild. The census that was done showed the population of around 20% of pre-Katrina levels. That created a different employment market, businesses, schools, etc. no longer need the number of employees they had before Katrina. For those who have employment the obstacles to rebuilding are astronomical for most of the poor, working, and middle class. Insurance costs are astronomical, rebuilding costs are astronomical, lenders will not lend in many areas, etc. There are many lawsuits in LA and MS over insurance settlements, most are unlikely to ever collect much of anything on insurance. If for example someone owed $250,000 on a house and collected nothing from insurance they still owe that money even if they only now have a vacant lot or unusable house. There are thousands of properties that will be foreclosed and in many cases the lenders will sell those to private developers who will gentrify those areas.  

by robliberal 2006-11-24 01:49PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

One of my friend's family - they were of the black middle class down there. He was a a professional who was paying as of the spirng money on a license, and insurance on a business that was no longer generating any money. From another neighbor- and I am in nyc- so you can imagine if the info is dissimanating through AA communities up here, what it is like down there- the things you described have been known since the begining of the year. The fear is that the gentrificiation is deliberately design to change the city from having a hight black population. That this is what the white community there was looking for - Katrina- as an excuse to do what they wanted to do for a long time. Get rid of what is considered the unsavory residents. It doesn't help when you are losing your house to hear you are being paranoid about why you are losing your house- which I suspect is what many heard when they heard the denounciation of Nagin for saying that NOLA would remain a chocolate city. That comment was meant to allay the fears that people would lose their homes. But instead it because yet another opportunity for people to be offended, just offended, that race came up.

Now, this allows for leeches such as Mr 90k in the Frig to use what are legitimate fears about losing one's home or livelihood coupled with fears of trojan horse candidates (which is what the "white" debate is about) to work against the voters even while pretending to help. It's no different in my mind that what Rove/Bush did to exploit people's fears, but this is writ on a smaller scale.

by bruh21 2006-11-24 02:58PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

Unfortunately a lot of the politicians who talk the loudest about helping people return are the ones who are the most closely connected to the corporate interests who will end up with the real estate.

by robliberal 2006-11-24 03:32PM | 0 recs
by G Bitch 2006-11-25 04:45AM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

You're right.  Nagin was not far from the truth.  Unfortunately he was also in the pocket of the conspirators he was declaiming... and as such a puppet of that conspiracy

by MR Gloomy Pants 2006-11-24 04:18PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

I agree. There is a divide (or at least in my mind) between what Nagin said, and what he did as mayor. He had a lot to answer for with regard to his own failures, and I wonder whether there was a credible candidate who could have brought these issues forward without being labeled as racist against whites for pointing out that there were racial tensions in NOLA (which seems to be the contour of the discuss these days- ie, the mere mention of the realities of discrimination means one is being pc or oneself engaged in racism -- another effective tool for shutting down real debate).

by bruh21 2006-11-24 05:10PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

Fascinating and complicated stuff

by Matt Stoller 2006-11-24 12:25PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

I concur with Stoller - it seems like the dynamics in this race are absolutely fascinating. As I can't say that I can truly understand the racial politics of what is occurring, I'll leave it to others to hypothesize about it. Nevertheless, this should be an interesting race, and it's one I hope that Carter wins.

by PsiFighter37 2006-11-24 12:55PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

Actually the dynamics here are only a faint echo of what was going on in the mayoral election.  If you're interested in that, check out the April and May archives of the NOLA bloggers Tim links to.  Really crazy stuff there.

by MR Gloomy Pants 2006-11-24 04:20PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

What gets lost in discussions of how some black candidates get labelled white by the voters is the fact that some white candidates are racially coded as "black" in elections where both candidates are white.  Bill Clinton was considered an honorary black president by some African Americans and vilified by many Republicans as a pawn of African-American liberals.  George Allen didn't go so far as to openly call Jim Webb the "black" candidate but he did race-bait his white opponent. Jefferson's strategy of mobilizing his base by indentifying his opponent with the district's racial minority (white in this rare case) seems more run-of-the-mill rather than out of the ordinary.

by ft 2006-11-24 02:31PM | 0 recs
I'm confused

Isn't Jefferson the Congressman with the cash in his freezer? How could any sane person vote for him?

by antiHyde 2006-11-24 02:33PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm confused

The same way any sane voter votes for any candidate- it depends on how you define the interests involved. If you afraid someone is trying to take your house, then you maybe willing to forgive the candidate who seems more likely to save it. As was said above- its not different than any other voters reaction, it's just that race is involved, and this is about the black voters fears regarding what they have already probably seen on the ground. As I said above, if what I hear through the grapevine is true, I can understand their fears. Their response to it maybe wrong, but ignoring that they have legitimate concerns is a license for losing.

by bruh21 2006-11-24 02:50PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm confused


by MR Gloomy Pants 2006-11-24 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm confused

Well, if you're sharing in the cash, you support him. Otherwise, you're just voting for a guy that you know will sell you out. Not sane.

by antiHyde 2006-11-25 12:38PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm confused

of course- nothing race related ever is.

by bruh21 2006-11-25 03:37PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm confused

we are all paranoid and crazy, and let's see how that works out.

by bruh21 2006-11-25 03:38PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

FYI:  The Southern idiom is "white folk", not "white folks"

As for Nagin's support for Jefferson, it isn't hard to figure given Nagin's and Jefferson's shared constituencies.

What's also going on behind the scenes in New Orleans is old fashioned machine politics, although in NOLA the machines are legion albeit shadowy.

by adaplant 2006-11-25 05:03AM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

Nagin supporting Jefferson actually proves the Republicans were right to not trust Nagin with money. We HAVE to clean our own house before throwing stones. How is Jefferson different from Cunningham?

by antiHyde 2006-11-25 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: LA-2: Race in the race

This has race and class and colorism all mixed up into a particularly New Orleans-ish situation.

Karen Carter is literally 'The White Candidate', in terms of the colorism of the Black community.

Add into it that she's got all these White supporters, and it has doomed her. She has absolutely no 'Black Cred'.

There was a terrific article on some months ago entitled ' How White People Elected Ray Nagin Mayor of New Orleans - TWICE'.  The gist of the article was that Nagin was elected the first time by the White community. After all, he was even a registered REPUBLICAN (in the deep South, no less) before he decided to run for Mayor. He was elected with WHITE support, not Black support.

After Katrina, the former Black Majority saw ' The White Folks' conspire to :a) take their land(despite what was reported, an overwheming majority of the land in the Lower 9th Ward and other heavily populated African American Wards was OWNED by those people. They may have been shacks, but people OWNED those shacks, and 'The White Powers That Be' couldn't evict them from that prime land - Katrina has now made it possible for them to get their hands on it- the Black community believes),

b)deny them literally the right to vote(The Secretary of State of Lousiana and the manipulations in NOT allowing the candidates to have a list of addresses of the evacuees, so that they could campaign at them directly), and here was Nagin, who suddenly found his 'Blackness.'

The Black community sees its land being taken away from them, not being able to vote, the absolute corruption in the post-Katrina government contracts, and the FLOODING OF NEW ORLEANS WITH ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, all the while telling former ACTUAL New Orleans residents that there are no jobs for them...well, it adds up to a not-so-out-there 'Conspiracy Theory'. Quite honestly, I don't think it's a conspiracy theory - AT ALL. They're seeing it as it really is.

So, don't be too surprised if Jefferson is re-elected.

And, this is from someone who, though I live 1500 miles away, donated to Karen Carter's campaign.

by rikyrah 2006-11-27 05:02PM | 0 recs


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