LA-2: Race in the race
by Tim Tagaris, Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 10:50:19 AM EST
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 ...